Founder of Project Liberty Frank McCourt spoke at the Knight Foundation’s “Informed: Conversations on Democracy in the Digital Age” conference on November 30, 2022. Informed brought together experts and leaders from media, academia, policy, business, and social impact to probe questions at the intersection of technology and democracy.
During a session titled Can Fixing the Internet Save Democracy? McCourt joined Knight Foundation President and CEO Alberto Ibargüen in a dialogue about how public and private sector leaders – and individuals who recognize the need for systemic change – must work together to address the internet’s lack of effective governance and autocratic structure that empowers dominant platforms over people. McCourt presented Project Liberty’s comprehensive, innovation-driven approach as a way to enable and support a truly democratic internet.
McCourt explained how he came to found Project Liberty, following widespread recognition that the Silicon Valley approach of “moving fast and breaking things” was undermining democratic values, trust, user-safety on the internet. Project Liberty is a chance to re-embed those values through a holistic design. “Knowing what the internet is capable of, let’s design it to operate the way we would like it to,” McCourt said. “Rather than just moving fast and breaking things, let’s actually design the technology as a tool for humanity…We need to build in the values and objectives we want from the design stage.”
In their conversation, Ibargüen and McCourt explored the potential of Web3 technology in supporting a more democratic web and shifting the control and economic value of personal data from dominant tech platforms to people. “When I give away my data, I almost never do it consciously,” Ibargüen noted. With new Web3 technology like blockchain, individual users can reclaim agency over their data to enable a more inclusive economy. “Blockchain is great for self-sovereign ID. Blockchain is great for verifiable attributes, the things that would give the internet its integrity, that would make it trusted again,” McCourt prompted. “There’s a shared economic model, so that there’s actually real access to opportunity for many more people.”
Project Liberty has already built and released a cutting-edge solution with the Decentralized Social Networking Protocol (DSNP), an open-source protocol that can support a healthier digital ecosystem. But McCourt and Ibargüen noted how, rather than the tech-development process, ensuring effective digital governance and driving mass migration to a healthier system poses significant challenges and needs that type of broad-based engagement Project Liberty is fostering. “It turns out that tech is the easy part to solve which is why Project Liberty is so important. Yes, it has a big tech idea, but it is not a tech project. It is a democracy project,” McCourt said.Watch