Revolutionizing Connectivity: Can Buying TikTok Transform the Digital Landscape?

If digital autocrats and walled platforms are to be the internet’s future, here is an alternative that stands to shape society like nothing before or since. In introducing his plan to buy TikTok, Frank McCourt conjured two billionaires from different Disney movies: Mulan and Snow White. The billionaire McCourt owns certain versions of the LA Dodgers, and a sprawl of real estate. He thinks he can buy TikTok, that fulcrum of global commerce, politics and culture, and in doing so reshape the internet – society – like nothing else before or since.

The Visionary's Ambition: A New Dawn for the Internet

Project Liberty, as his new venture is known, hopes to disrupt the notion that social media should be tethered to a single company, arguing instead for a shift toward an OPEN, federated web. Central to all those efforts is the Decentralized Social Networking Protocol (DSNP), a modern manifesto of digital autonomy and freedom. For McCourt, acquiring the popular social media service is not just about taking over a large social network. It’s about saving the internet – bringing it back to the original promises that opened the web to limitless possibilities for innovation and open engagement.

DSNP: Bridging Platforms, Uniting Users

Imagine a place where your digital being is not bound by the walls of a particular garden, where the threads of your relationships are free to cross from social platform to social platform with ease. That’s the potential that DSNP opens up. In adding Audrey Tang – the eponymous ‘digital minister’ of the Republic of China (Taiwan) who now joins Project Liberty’s fellowship – we’re helping one of the world’s most prophetic theorisers of a pluralistic internet ecosystem make this dream a reality. The way forwards belies an importance that is heralded in Tang’s vision of a provably decentralised, yet anti-fragile internet ecosystem.

The TikTok Pivot: A Strategic Game-Changer?

If anything, the acquisition of TikTok marks the most ambitious step along the path of Project Liberty so far. TikTok – a short-form video hosting service that in the past year has become one of the fastest-growing consumer apps ever, with more than 150 million active users – offers the potential for massive scale in DSNP’s experiment to overhaul social networking. In particular, its new owner McCourt will be able to integrate China’s massive population of app users into the network, and potentially bring about a transformation in digital interaction on a global scale. Much of the secret of TikTok’s remarkable success lies in its algorithm. But, even if that part of the business is not part of the deal, there has never before been such a large pool of potential participants in an experiment to move the internet from its current monolithic state to the OPEN and distributed system of its origins.

Overcoming the Silos: The Future of Social Media

Social media’s tendency to splinter into individualised landscapes of content and community is a growing issue, but the open nature of Project Liberty, where the marriage of TikTok and DSNP could create a powerful vaccine to prevent social media’s tribalisation, ensures the opposite. Imagine a social media that is ‘one’ again, like Mastodon is now, built on OPEN protocols.

The Challenge of OPENness: Navigating the Economic Landscape

Opening up the internet is an uphill battle, not least because the current economic model of the web is a powerful obstacle. Open protocols naturally challenge the standard revenue models and business structures of digital platforms. As McCourt puts it, we should get away from the idea of ‘user as product’, and instead restore digital spaces to their functionality where they empower the users, allowing people to operate without fear of being violated. This is a laudable goal, but one that requires considerable investment and a philosophical shift in how we value certain aspects of the network.

The Road Ahead: A Complex Quest

Nevertheless, the road towards an open internet spearheaded by projects such as Project Liberty is a daunting one. Bytedance may never even decide to sell TikTok and – not to mention – the technical challenges of porting millions of users to a new protocol are immense. Plus, the regulation of digital markets – look at the EU’s new Digital Markets Act, for example – is a shifting landscape in its own right.

Exploring OPEN: A Path to Digital Liberation

The ‘open’ in Project Liberty and this larger digital ecosystem refers to a return to the founding spirit of the technology itself – openness, decentralisation and user empowerment. The DSNP and potential TikTok acquisitions are an attempt at DIY net neutrality, because McCourt and his partners are envisioning a revitalised web where content and people flow across platforms. The idea of ‘open’ is often used to refer to technical access – such as the ability of programmers to make their creations work on digital devices. But democratic openness, as McCourt explains it, represents a world of the internet that is not wrapped in containment. Openness represents an ‘Internet for the people,’ with walls dismantled, so that its future governance stays within the hands of users.

In Conclusion

In the end, if Frank McCourt succeeds in buying TikTok, this could be the beginning of a new, more open, more connected kind of digital world. The vision of Project Liberty, with the Kosmoki Decentralised Social Networking Protocol, hopes to open that world, and shift our interaction online away from the closed platforms towards a new way of doing social media. It’s not going to be easy. But open internet, or the lack of it, is becoming a vital part of the debate over digital sovereignty, digital privacy and the future of the net.

Jun 14, 2024
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