Blockchains and, more recently, DAOs (Decentralised Autonomous Organisations) can be described as complex socio-technical systems where groups of people interact with distributed protocols and digital technologies at different scales. The complexity of both blockchains and DAOs can be described in relation to scale and, as Siegenfeld and Bar-Yam have noted, this is ultimately a decision about which level of detail we may want to provide when describing them.
This is a short essay on dialogue, culture and identities. In addition to the public good policy adopted by the Catalan Government over the last four decades, it examines the Catalan language from a commons-based perspective. It contends that its survival and evolution in a digital age will mainly depend on the social institutions that can be created to manage it as a commons good. To foster cultural innovation and plurality, against diglossic stances, blockchain technologies could be used by Catalan speakers to create a social community to freely manage their own language.
When a white Trump supporter pulled a knife on a Black counterprotester, team members in bright vests approached the man, hands in the air, encouraging him to “slow down,” according to the group. Soon, he put away the knife, and friends pulled him away from the scene.
Five people died in the Capitol attack. But in this one incident, at least, violence was stopped before it could start.
From Kenya to Minnesota
Interventions by volunteers trained in keeping the peace when tensions are high have long been used to reduce election-related violence in the developing world.
After Kenya’s bitterly contested 2007 presidential election, which left over 1,000 people dead, Kenyan activists created an online map to monitor and try to prevent political violence. Their efforts inspired the development of Ushahidi – Swahili for “witness” – a crowdsourced mapping tool that shows peacekeepers exactly where a conflict is developing.
Ushahidi has since been used worldwide to document countless political problems and humanitarian crises, from violent incidents in the Syrian Civil War to sexual harassment in Egypt. In 2013 and 2017 Kenyan activists once again used this technology to predict and defuse potential violence before, during and after their presidential election.
For humanitarian workers and crisis responders who, like us, have worked abroad in conflict zones, the scenes looked terribly familiar. In late 2020 we joined with other conflict experts – including both local community groups and global nonprofit organizations – to found the Trust Network, a nonpartisan group dedicated to detecting and trying to prevent political violence.
Conflict mapping in action
Online teams at the Trust Network gather intelligence on the activities and stated intentions of extremist groups gleaned from both think tanks and research institutes that monitor the violent fringes of U.S. society. Based on that information, we identify potentially violent outbreaks – whether at protests or political rallies – then mark the site on a digital map.
The map is shared with member organizations, among them the local conflict mediators that work on the ground to de-escalate violence at marches, demonstrations and the like. Physically inserting themselves between opposing groups, they talk to each side and attempt to persuade people to step back from violence. This strategy, also called “violence interruption,” is often used in gang disputes.
Sometimes, just mapping a crisis draws enough attention to deter violence. When instigators know they are being watched – and potentially recorded with smartphones – they may withdraw.
On Election Day, Nov. 3, three vehicles filled with people wearing camouflage, their license plates covered, started circling polling stations in Minneapolis. On-the-ground volunteers from Nonviolent Peaceforce alerted the Trust Network. The incident was mapped, and an alert went out to police, government officials and community members about the potential danger at voting sites.
Over time, however, it has become clear that digitally mapping election violence is not the game changer in modern America that it was in Kenya in 2007. People are so plugged in to smartphones that conflict-mediating groups can quickly and easily find out when and where violent events are unfolding.
What their street mediators need, the groups told us, is real-time information about potential violence at protests and rallies to better navigate chaotic conditions.
This year, we’ve begun using Twitter, local news sites and other digital platforms to track the size, location and movements of extremist groups like the Proud Boys. Collating the posts of credible journalists and independent videographers, we send up-to-the-minute information about emerging hot spots to street teams using Signal, an encrypted text-messaging app.
The Trust Network also seeks to deter violence between protesters and police at such events, using a combination of de-escalation strategies.
On the scene, Trust Network representatives wearing bright green vests introduced themselves to police, protesters and counterprotesters, signaling to all their intention to keep the protest peaceful. An unrelated group called the Election Defenders was also working to prevent violence between opposing groups.
The combination of pre-event communication with police and dialogue at the scene helped lower the temperature of a potentially explosive situation. Several Detroit protesters were carrying weapons, according to the Detroit Free Press. But that “Stop the Steal” protest stayed calm.
Brendan O’Hanrahan, media-monitoring lead of the Election Incident Reporting Project, contributed to this story.
By Marta Poblet, Darcy W. E. Allen, Oleksii Konashevych, Aaron M. Lane and Carlos Andres Diaz Valdivia
Oracles were trusted sources of knowledge for public deliberation in classical Athens. Very much like expert and technical knowledge, divine advice was embedded in the deliberation and decision-making process of the democratic Assembly. While the idea of religious divination is completely out of place in our contemporary democracies, oracles made a technological comeback with modern computer science and cryptography and, more recently, the emergence of the blockchain as a “trust machine.” This paper reviews the role of oracles in Athenian democracy and, stemming from the renewed use of the term in computer sciences and cryptography, analyses the case of oracles in the nascent blockchain ecosystem. The paper also proposes a sociotechnical approach to the use of distributed oracles as informational devices to assist deliberative processes in digital democracy settings and considers the limits that such an approach may face.
By Darcy W.E. Allen, Aaron M. Lane, and Marta Poblet
Blockchain technology acts as infrastructure for self-executing smart contracts. Because contracts are incomplete and some parties are opportunistic, these new contracting possibilities create dispute resolution challenges. For instance, will smart contracts be recognized, and any disputes resolved, within the existing territorial courts? In this article, we first map some institutional governance possibilities for contracting parties (e.g. mediation, private arbitration, and courts) to create a Dispute Resolution Possibility Frontier (DRPF). Second, we provide case studies of emerging blockchain-based dispute resolution mechanisms. Blockchain-based smart contracts create a source of new disputes requiring resolution, but also can serve as a technology that facilitates new methods of dispute resolution, including for disputes arising from traditional legal contracts. Contracting parties will subjectively make tradeoffs for their most effective dispute resolution mechanism, and the costs of dispute resolution will change over time through a process of institutional innovation.
Read the full paper at [https://www.hnlr.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/75-allen-et-al.pdf ]
A Mediterranean tsunami is a rare, once-in-a-century event. A black swan. In Catalonia, the abnormal surge has taken the unique form of a “Democratic Tsunami”.
On Monday 14 October, the Spanish Supreme Court sentenced 12 Catalan politicians and grassroots activists to long jail terms for sedition and misuse of public funds. Sedition laws are a thing of the past in many liberal democracies. To date, the penal category of sedition had rarely been applied in post-1978 Spain.
The Supreme Court sentence puts an end to a lengthy trial judging the failed secession bid of 1 October 2017. Yet, the harshness of the ruling, qualified by the International Commission of Jurists as “disproportionate and ultimately unjustifiable” also marks the start of a new wave of pro-independence, pro-human rights activism and protest in Catalonia.
Stop repression in Catalonia, by Steve Eason (Flikr)
Tsunami Democràtic emerged a few weeks ago as a grassroots activist initiative to prepare “the citizens’ response to the Supreme Court sentence”. As with other digital-born activist movements, Democratic Tsunami thrives on social media platforms. Especially on Telegram, Catalonia’s hottest messaging app. In a matter of days, the Tsunami Democràtic Telegram channel has grown from a few thousand to nearly 330,000 subscribers at the time of writing.
Tsunami Democràtic deploys activism tactics mirroring some of the nimble forms of ongoing protest in Hong Kong. Among them, a leaderless online presence to preserve anonymity; unidirectional communications via “official” channels to discourage fake accounts; short-notice, bullet-point calls for people to pop up in local meetups (or “picnics”). With these tools, activists have coordinated large sit-ins at Hong Kong and Barcelona international airports.
Underpinning these tactics, Tsunami Democràticactivists leverage encrypted, privacy-enhanced technologies. This week, the group has released an app that requires a QR code to open. Users can only get the code from other users within their “trusted circles” and are expected to share it likewise. The app requests users to share their approximate location and time preferences to “know how many people are available in each area and when available for peaceful actions of civil disobedience”. Notifications will only pop up for those people within the area.
The new generation of activists is as tech-savvy as their immediate predecessors of the Umbrella Revolution, the Spanish 15-M movement, or the 2017 independence referendum in Catalonia, to name well-known examples. Yet, both Hong Kong and Catalan activists have grown weary of exposing their identities in a world where state surveillance, data (and metadata) breaches and engineered misinformation are the new normal.
The new layer of decentralised, encrypted protocols may offer greater resistance to surveillance, censorship, and hacking. But, as many blockchain projects show – to mention a technology where full decentralisation is the Holy Grail – architectural decentralisation does not necessarily entail decentralised governance. In fact, there is an interesting paradox here, for decentralised, trustless governance requires first and second-order levels of trust: (i) trust the code, (ii) trust the [team of] coders. If coders remain anonymous for strategic reasons, second-order trust becomes a leap of faith (we trust you, whoever you are). The suspension of disbelief to allow centralised management of collective intelligence is a new form of “swarm activism” in political conflict scenarios. A digital social contract with a post-modern, encrypted Leviathan. Perhaps a sophisticated “human botnet”, as Enric Luján has recently argued on Twitter.
Will it work for Tsunami Democràtic? In the thick of another complex cycle of protests, demands and repression, it is too early to call. Stay tuned.
Citizens’ trust in democratic institutions is reaching new lows globally. The trust deficit primarily affects governments and representative institutions, but also media outlets and platforms spreading misinformation. In parallel, new forms of digital populism—bots, fake news, micro-targeting—are on the rise, degrading public debate and disempowering citizens and their voices. In the age of social media, paradoxically, citizens’ isegoria—the equal right to participate in the public debate—could come to an end.
Yet, these trends also coexist with ongoing experimenting and testing of innovative tools and strategies for civic action, such as crowdsourced data curation, deliberation, or decision making. A new generation of civic technologies is now enabling citizens to blend offline and online resources to achieve new goals and reinvent democracy in the 21st century. The interplay between people, civic technologies and open data can create participatory ecosystems where collective knowledge emerges and further civic action develops. Our book examines these formations as ‘linked democracy ecosystems’ and analyses their emergence and governing principles.
La tria aleatòria de ciutadans per ocupar diferents càrrecs i responsabilitats polítiques era un dels trets característics de la democràcia atenenca clàssica. Què suscita l’interès contemporani per la democràcia aleatòria i pel disseny d’institucions basades en el principi d’aleatorietat?
L’escenari polític europeu s’ha vist sacsejat amb la irrupció de partits i discursos d’arrel populista que impugnen principis i valors democràtics i laminen les institucions representatives arreu del continent. Però, és aquesta, realment, l’única resposta possible a la creixent apatia electoral i a la desconfiança en les institucions? La Unió Europea té al davant el gran repte de dissenyar institucions que articulin les capacitats polítiques de la ciutadania en tots els nivells, i construir així un veritable demos europeu. Perquè, en definitiva, sense més democràcia no hi haurà més Europa.
Governments across the world are testing different uses of the blockchain for the delivery of their public services. Blockchain hashing–or the insertion of data in the blockchain–is one of the potential applications of the blockchain in this space. With this method, users can apply special scripts to add their data to blockchain transactions, ensuring both immutability and publicity. Blockchain hashing also secures the integrity of the original data stored on central governmental databases. The paper starts by analysing possible scenarios of hashing on the blockchain and assesses in which cases it may work and in which it is less likely to add value to a public administration. Second, the paper also compares this method with traditional digital signatures using PKI (Public Key Infrastructure) and discusses standardisation in each domain. Third, it also addresses issues related to concepts such as “distributed ledger technology” and “permissioned blockchains.” Finally, it raises the question of whether blockchain hashing is an effective solution for electronic governance, and concludes that its value is controversial, even if it is improved by PKI and other security measures. In this regard, we claim that governments need first to identify pain points in governance, and then consider the trade-offs of the blockchain as a potential solution versus other alternatives.