Frank McCourt, civic entrepreneur and founder of Project Liberty, recently spoke at MIT’s annual EmTech Conference, which highlights and explores the world’s most exciting emerging technologies. On November 3rd, McCourt joined MIT Technology Review news editor Charlotte Jee for a keynote session titled “Remaking the Internet.” During their conversation, McCourt discussed the need for a new web architecture and the promise of decentralized technology, when coupled with effective digital governance, to support democracy. He also outlined Project Liberty’s comprehensive efforts to construct a more equitable internet, fix social media and what it has broken, and empower people over platforms. MIT Technology Review featured the session in its “Best of EmTech 2022” overview.
McCourt and Jee discussed how the internet’s current architecture enabled Silicon Valley’s dangerous “move fast and break things” mentality and how we now have a finite window of opportunity to positive shape the next generation of the web and seize the opportunites afforded by decentralized technology. “For the first time, data can be stored in a decentralized way,” McCourt said. “We don’t need these huge servers controlled by individual large companies or platforms, so there is a lot in play now that enables us to reshape the internet.”
Throughout the conversation, McCourt voiced concern about the negative social impact of highly centralized technology and social media platforms. With Elon Musk’s recent purchase of Twitter, he noted, now is the time to reemphasize digital democratic governance. Though the U.S. champions democratic values, McCourt said, “our technology is being used much more like China since it is so centralized. [The use of] your data, my data, is being decided by platforms.” During the Q&A session, McCourt highlighted that reviving democratic principles in the digital world is a global endeavor. “The reason why Project Liberty is a transnational project is because we want all democracies to get involved.”
Project Liberty’s comprehensive solution begins with the Decentralized Social Networking Protocol (DSNP), an open-source internet protocol that establishes a shared social graph, independent of a specific app or centralized platform. By putting data back in the hands of its actual owners, DSNP lays the foundations for a free and open digital public square. “Jack Dorsey himself has said Twitter should not be a company, it should be a protocol. That’s DSNP,” McCourt said.