Why the People Should Own TikTok

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The Vision for Internet Reform

Frank McCourt believes that the people should own a stake in internet platforms because they are the ones generating the data and value. He envisions building a coalition of diverse interest groups and capital sources who see this as a viable alternative, not only for investment but also because they share the values and goals of this initiative. McCourt emphasizes the need for a shift from being mere products of the internet to active stakeholders.

If the 170 million active TikTok users were to migrate to this alternative platform, it could achieve the necessary scale to compete with current internet giants. McCourt’s interest lies in catalyzing this new internet rather than owning or leading a social media platform.

Project Liberty and Internet Safety

Project Liberty aims to reimagine the internet, allowing individuals to reclaim their autonomy from Big Tech. While safety is a concern, the project addresses broader issues of personal and data sovereignty. McCourt notes that a decade ago, he believed public policy could redirect the internet’s trajectory. However, the fast pace of technology outstrips the slower, deliberate nature of policymaking.

Investing in Change

The value of TikTok, often cited as $100 billion, is uncertain, especially if ByteDance sells it without its algorithm, making it significantly less valuable. McCourt is prepared to invest but does not seek to be the sole investor or owner. He has already committed $500 million to Project Liberty, focusing on broader internet reform. He aligns with the sentiment that having American data sent to China poses a national security risk.

Potential Changes to TikTok

If the acquisition proceeds, the user experience on TikTok would remain similar, but the power dynamics would change. Transparent algorithms would still be used to keep users engaged, but with a focus on user control and fairness. McCourt draws inspiration from Thomas Paine, seeing this moment as a critical juncture where people must choose to reclaim their digital rights.

The Broken Internet

McCourt argues that the internet has strayed from its original purpose of connecting and liberating people. Initially funded by the U.S. government, the internet was meant to foster optimism and connection. However, private companies have turned it into a space dominated by surveillance and data extraction, leading to a loss of personhood and autonomy for users. These platforms profit immensely from our data, amplifying toxicity and polarization while compromising democracy.

The Risk to Personhood and Autonomy

Our data represents our personhood, and every day, millions of Americans trade their personal information for “free” services. This data, including detailed social networks, is the core asset tech giants exploit for profit. In return, users lose their autonomy and rights, creating a lose-lose-win scenario where Big Tech benefits at the expense of individuals and democracy.

Fixing Democracy by Fixing the Internet

McCourt proposes that to repair democracy, we must first address the internet’s issues. The problem is pervasive, affecting personal lives and mental health, particularly among children. He urges communities to discuss these issues and advocate for change. Project Liberty’s Decentralized Social Networking Protocol offers an open-source, decentralized, human-centric technology as a healthier alternative.

The Stakes of “Our Biggest Fight”

McCourt is optimistic about winning this battle, which involves creating a digital ecosystem that respects individual rights, ensures fair compensation, and promotes mutual connection. If successful, this could restore the internet’s original vision. However, if society fails to act, the status quo will persist, exacerbating the mental health crisis and further eroding democracy. Recognizing and acting on these harms is crucial to winning this fight.

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