Jean Lievens: Could decentralized networks help save democracy?

Advanced Cyber/IO, Cultural Intelligence
Jean Lievens
Jean Lievens

Could decentralized networks help save democracy?

Democratic movements can flourish online, but just as easily get censored. A group of researchers is developing solutions to the vulnerabilities and privacy problems with using big social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan disrupted communications between his opponents when he shut down Twitter during the run-up to the country’s recent election. But in doing so, he provided yet more proof of how flawed social web activism can be. Whether the lessons in Turkey are heeded could have serious consequences for democracy.

Social networks such as Twitter and Facebook have enabled unprecedented levels of communication and have even received credit for at least one major democratic revolution. There’s just one problem: because of their monolithic nature, these centralized networks expose users to snooping and interference of the kind Erdogan caused, says Sonja Buchegger, Associate Professor of Computer Science at KTH Royal Institute of Technology.

A single, large-scale platform provides an easier target for anyone who wants to interfere with online political activity, says Buchegger. “But, if Twitter were decentralized, and you had users cooperating and communicating directly, that wouldn’t have been possible to disrupt.

“Decentralization allows for greater freedom of expression.

The good news is that there could be a computer science answer to the problem. Buchegger is leading a group of scientists at KTH who are creating building blocks that developers could use to launch decentralized, distributed networks, which would not only be difficult to interfere with, but would also protect people from government snooping.

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