Can Blockchain Technology Finally End Cannabis Censorship?

Deb Tharp | March 14, 2018 | Leave a Comment


Ever posted your favorite topic on social media, only to have it end up in “Facebook Jail” or deleted? If you post about cannabis, you almost certainly know this frustration. Accounts are often summarily suspended or deleted over one post about a plant that’s legal in 29 states and counting.


First-generation social networks are private interests owned and operated by private corporations. They have control over what language they choose to allow and when to allow it. Of course, there are viable free speech arguments about public forums and discrimination over access, but this takes years of judicial red tape.


Meanwhile, blockchain’s disruptive technology can provide an easier solution to censorship than slogging through the court systembuild something better and beat them at their own game. Sashi Nakamoto’s invention may be the key to making this possible.



Who Is Sashi Nakamoto?


His true identity is actually a mystery. It’s also evidence of blockchain’s complete anonymity. For all we know, Nakamoto could just be some hapless technoweenie who invented blockchain in his mom’s basement while eating Hot Pockets and playing Halo. General consensus whittles it down to a handful of candidates who still won’t fess up to creating the incorruptible digital ledger.


But we do know that whoever (or whatever) Satoshi Nakamoto is, he/it owns about 5% of Bitcoin, the first monetary application of blockchain tech. This gives him/them a net worth of at least $9 billion.


Some governments argue Nakamoto is a criminal gang set on breaking the current market with their disruptive technology. Bitcoin is worth roughly $180 billion, yet so anonymous users don’t know who created it or owned the original stake. Bitcoin made Silk Road, the dark web’s eBay, possible.


But that’s the point of disruptive technology, right? Create disarray by proving something new is possible. With blockchain, Nakamoto showed it’s possible to have anonymous, decentralized and unalterable transactions on a reliable and efficient network. Blockchain could even become the basis for a new kind of internet.


What Exactly Is Blockchain?


As Toby Morning, Founder of Lyfted Distribution & Logistics, explains it:


“People talk about blockchain currencies and blockchain technology synonymously, but Bitcoin and blockchain technology are not the same thing. If you think of blockchain as a type of operating system, and Bitcoin as a program that can run on that operating system, you’ll have a pretty close analogy.”


There are many other “programs” that can also run on blockchain technology. Morning uses it as the backbone for his distribution network’s databasing. The company believes it’s vital to ensure compliance with the state’s new track and trace program.


“If you want to break the information flow, you just hack Metrc (the state’s third party track and trace program). We write all of our own transactions to our blockchain application, so in case Metrc gets hacked, or the system fails, we can’t lose our information. This is vital because our customers have a responsibility to the state and can be audited and sued if they don’t comply.”


How Blockchain Works


When data is added to a ledger on a blockchain network, it’s entered into a block. These information blocks are attached to each other via chain. Once the chain is full of blocks, it’s hashed into the previous info chain connecting back to every other one.


The data is then stored in duplicate form across all other computers attached to its network. Think of it as double-entry bookkeeping on steroids, making records more secure and error-proof.  


When a transaction is entered, anyone can see itbut no one can edit it (like only viewing a Google doc). All you can do is add new pages and link them to the original document.


If there’s a user error, he or she can see the mistaken transaction and agree to correct it with a new one (i.e. getting a refund). Once that transaction’s fixed, the record will contain both the mistake and the correction in the order they were added. This is why it’s so useful for meeting the new compliance standards for track and trace set up by California.


Can This Help End Corporate Censorship?


Until now, social networks were like old-fashioned central databases. These first generation ones store all of our personal information on a single database that they themselves have complete control over. A social network can censor and eliminate any posts by their direct competition, or any content that doesn’t fit their moral or political agenda.


A blockchain network has no single, old-fashioned database that can be controlled. There’s no person or entity to decide what can be posted except users themselves. Once someone adds content, no one can change or alter it without leaving evidence of tampering.


Even better, it can be humans, not algorithms, who decide what’s relevant and what constitutes quality content via consensus. And since it’s blockchain, users should be able to enjoy the freedom and security of their shared information while remaining completely anonymousif they’re careful.


For many, this revolutionary social networking concept couldn’t come at a better time.


Marketers, writers and activists can expend thousands of hours and energy on their profiles, building up followers and creating a presence, only to lose it to the capricious censorship of the network’s owners.


The cannabis industry has been getting the brunt of corporate social networking’s formidable banhammer.


Why CEOs Shouldn’t Arbitrate Free Speech


By the time our courts decide on the free speech lawsuits surrounding first-generation social media networks, the behemoths that created the controversy won’t be relevant. The internet age is the embodiment of instant gratification and millennials have neither the time nor the desire to fix a broken system. It’s become easier just to move on.


Nothing illustrates this point more than the inevitable demise of Facebook, which is now losing young users at an unprecedented rate. Some say the network has simply become uncool because Mom and Dad crashed the party.



But when Facebook lost $3.3 billion in stock values last month after announcing new changes to their news feed, censorship definitely came into the conversation.  


Founder Mark Zuckerberg said in a public statement that changes were designed to make the social network a more personal experience with friends and family again. Others insist this was a cover allowing the company to censor postings that lead to backlash over cyberbullying and “fake news.”


Facebook’s response? Zuckerberg said, “we feel a responsibility to make sure our services aren’t just fun to use, but also good for people’s well-being.”


So, Mr. Zuckerberg, who gets to decide what’s good for us?


It’s not surprising that Facebook’s disenfranchised users have simply decided to leave. And now they have some interesting new options for a replacement forum.


How About a Cannabis Network Dedicated to Free Speech?


That’s why so many ears are perking up at the idea of a new blockchain social network dedicated entirely to what us cannapreneurs and stoners love mostganja! Smoke Network is more than happy to provide an outlet for dangerous concepts like saying whatever the hell we want about a plant that should be legal anyway.


Because the network is based on blockchain, savvy users could keep their personal information as private as Sashi Nakamoto’sif it’s built well. And since their contributions can’t be edited, deleted or censored, they won’t risk spending hours or weeks on content that gets chucked down the Orwellian memory hole.


Even better, Smoke Network created their own cryptocurrency designed to pay users just for hanging out and adding content.


Getting Paid to Talk About Bud?


So is paying users in “smoke” to hang out a gimmick, or a new way to approach advertising? It’s a bit of a ploy, but think of it this way: corporations already pay networks to get our attention; blockchain simply makes it possible to cut out the middleman and pay the target of that communication directly.


This also gives content creators a novel new way to monetize their intellectual property. Though don’t start thinking this is the motherload. You won’t be earning a living surfing the internet and smoking pot. (Only in a perfect world…)


The amounts paid are measured in cents and fractions of cents, not dollars. Even if you spend day and night posting content and surfing for pay, it’s more like bonuses that accumulate using a rewards-based credit card.


What could go wrong?


The Darker Potential of Blockchain Networks


The concept of a blockchain social network isn’t all sunshine and butterflies. An anonymous forum is likely to be inundated with horrifying content. This is nothing new. 


Supposedly, members will be able to upvote and promote good information while downvoting or ignoring the bad. At least users will get a proper warning before clicking on something that can’t be unseen or undone.


Assuming that the majority of users are responsible human beings, the system is capable of self-censoring and creating a relatively safe environment.


Consider a poster who wants to sell moldy weed from a ditch in Missouri swarming with pesticides and Feds in equal amounts.


If the network is truly decentralized, it’d be very difficult to eliminate this user’s posts, although more honest users could downvote to give others fair warning. This still leaves room for innocents to be victimized. Worse, what if our villains are communicating something truly dangerous like paid foreign propaganda to influence American elections or human trafficking networking instructions?


It’s Not a Free-For-All


There’s still no standard for enforcing issues like this on blockchain technology. So it’s definitely going to be up to the users to keep the place civil and out of the hands of criminals. It worked out for Silk Road, right? (Read how Silk Road was shut down by the FBI.)


But before you decide to join the new network and go wild, think again. It may be difficult to track down users but it’s not impossible. When there’s a will, there’s a way, and the criminal investigations that accompanied the Silk Road shut down should make this crystal clear.


In the case of Smoke Network, the network isn’t like the dark web where servers were down more than up. Data will be extremely traceable. So it’s feasible that the very determined investigator could eventually track down its source.


In their privacy policy, Smoke Network says they collect users’ data, including IP addresses and personal information. They’ll also hand this info over to law enforcement if they feel it’s justified.


Users in Legal States Can Still End Up in Hot Water


While most people are contemplating problems like black market sales in a dark web environment, they might be missing other regulations that could target the forum’s creators and users directly.


For instance, Smoke Network could accidentally end up paying users for illegal content, like advertisements for black market dealers or instructions for how to manufacture BHO with primitive equipment.


This may seem like a free speech matter, which would let the network’s owners and users escape culpability, but not all speech is protected by the First Amendment.


Unprotected language includes:


  • Screaming “fire” in a crowded theater
  • Certain obscenities like child pornography
  • Speech that incites violence
  • Libel and slander
  • Blackmail
  • Incitement to lawless action
  • Solicitations to commit crimes


So the idea of incentivizing blockchain social networks based around a Schedule 1 drug seems destined for a lawsuit. Will blockchain social networks be sued over user content?


Is Escaping Corporate Censorship Worth the Risk?


At the end of the day, no system is going to be perfect. Whatever communication network is created, there’ll always be hackers and criminals eager to crash the party. (And don’t forget Mom and Dad.)


Protecting free speech has always been a matter of balancing society’s need for safety with our personal need for expression.


Perhaps a completely anonymous blockchain system will open more avenues for criminal action, but this system will give users more options to moderate those actions and protect the community as a whole without government intervention or corporate censorship. Perhaps this is the balance we’re looking for.


We need uncensored networks to carry out our activism. Otherwise, how can we change the unjust laws that keep cannabis illegal? There’s a reason that activist speech was the very first topic of the Bill of Rights.


Besides, nothing worth having comes without risk. We all know free speech comes at a price. Here in America, we tend to feel that price is worth paying. It’s an uphill battle for sure, and not for the timid, but the courts can’t stay in the way of progress forever.


Hopefully, blockchain social networks can make a dent in the current corporate censorship holding back progress towards a free and legal market for all.


Of course, it’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye, right?

About Deb Tharp

Deb Tharp is a cannabis activist, consultant, and writer. She began her cannabis activism at the age of 18, helping local candidates campaign door-to-door in the Midwest. Little did she know that the plant would save her husband's life a decade later. After watching him recover 60 pounds to his skeletal frame in a matter of months, she was convinced that the war on weed must end. She ran for State Assembly in 2010 while completing her bachelor's degree at University of California, Irvine. During her campaign, she managed to bring cannabis legalization to the forefront of the debate. Little more than a year later, she was publicly arrested while gathering signatures for a cannabis ballot initiative in Orange County. She fired back at the county by qualifying Measure CC in Santa Ana under Kandice Hawes' of OC Norml’s expert leadership. In the following years, she authored, qualified and helped to qualify over a dozen local legalization ballot initiatives across the state while teaching other activists how to do the same. She currently writes for Nugg, the nation's largest online cannabis marketplace, while pursuing her law degree at Taft Law School and will graduate in 2021.

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