Frank McCourt, the billionaire real estate mogul and former owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, is pouring $100 million into an attempt to rebuild the foundations of social media.
The effort, which he has loftily named Project Liberty, centers on the construction of a publicly accessible database of people’s social connections, allowing users to move records of their relationships between social media services instead of being locked into a few dominant apps.
The undercurrent to Project Liberty is a fear of the power that a few huge companies — and specifically Facebook Inc. — have amassed over the last decade. “I never thought I would be questioning the security of our underlying systems, namely democracy and capitalism,” McCourt said. “We live under constant surveillance, and what’s happening with this massive accumulation of wealth and power in the hands of a few, that’s incredibly destabilizing. It threatens capitalism because capitalism needs to have some form of fairness in it in order to survive.”
McCourt is hardly the only one to feel this way. Others are trying to reform social media by passing new laws or regulations, waiting for the next generation of startups to disrupt the current incumbents, or pressuring Facebook to look inward and revise its business model. McCourt, along with others like Twitter Inc. Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey, say the solution may be blockchain, the technology underpinning bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.
Project Liberty would use blockchain to construct a new internet infrastructure called the Decentralized Social Networking Protocol. With cryptocurrencies, blockchain stores information about the tokens in everyone’s digital wallets; the DSNP would do the same for social connections. Facebook owns the data about the social connections between its users, giving it an enormous advantage over competitors. If all social media companies drew from a common social graph, the theory goes, they’d have to compete by offering better services, and the chance of any single company becoming so dominant would plummet.
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