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Chinese activists are using Blockchain to document the stories of #MeToo

Synthesis

Too often, startup blockchain ideas do not really need blockchain. Data integrity is the main advantage conferred by blockchain technology, so blockchain makes sense when a company or project has data that is valuable or unique in a way that gives outsiders sufficient economic incentives to launch attacks for try to corrupt or modify them. That's why a recent use of blockchain technology in China from the #MeToo movement is so interesting. Towards the end of 2017, an increasing number of stories were shared on Chinese social media surrounding sexual harassment and abuse of positions in Chinese universities. The Chinese government and technology platforms have repeated attempts to filter these stories by censuring a variety of hashtags and keywords used by Weibo and Wechat supporters. As a result, activists have turned to blockchain technology to record their stories under the name "Every Snowflake". This is a case of use that meets the three criteria outlined above. Victims desperately want not to be censored; the other parties have a profound interest in censoring them; and people can find value in the stories of discrimination only if they have not been censored.

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One of our main tasks in teaching and advising students who are thinking about founding blockchain society is to ask them if their idea requires it or not. Data integrity is the main advantage conferred by blockchain technology and some questions can help you determine if it is a particular problem for a particular company or use case:

  1. If the data collected by my company is corrupt, how much do people suffer?
  2. Do strangers (perhaps hackers) have incentives to distort or change the data on which my business is based?
  3. How much depends on my company if other people are able to trust the data on which it is built?

Take for example a digital currency, the first use case for blockchain. There, if the data is corrupted or distorted by strangers, people lose real money, and the extraneous corrupting data earns money, making such attacks plausible and to be feared. Therefore, no one will adopt a digital currency unless they can trust that their data will not be corrupted or distorted. In other words, there is at least one plausible reason why you would like blockchain technology to handle currency transactions.

However, too often startup blockchain ideas do not really need blockchain. Their data is in fact not as valuable or unique in a way that gives outsiders sufficient economic incentives to launch attacks to try to corrupt them or to change them in any other way. That's why a recent use of blockchain technology in China in response to the #MeToo movement is so interesting.

Towards the end of 2017, an increasing number of stories were shared on Chinese social media surrounding sexual harassment and abuse of positions in Chinese universities. At the beginning the movement was called woyeshi, the Chinese spelling of "Me Too." The Chinese government and technology platforms have repeated attempts to filter these stories by censuring a variety of hashtags and keywords used by Weibo and Wechat supporters. First, woyeshi was censored, then #MeToo and finally "Rice Bunny", which has the same pronunciation of "Me Too" in Chinese. As a result, activists have turned to blockchain technology to record their stories under the name "Every snowflake". This website simply uses a register blockchain process to record stories of sexual harassment.

This is a case of use that meets the three criteria outlined above. Victims desperately want not to be censored; the other parties have a profound interest in censoring them; and people can find value in the stories of discrimination only if they have not been censored. "Every Snowflake" is a convincing case in which blockchain has helped people overcome a true data integrity problem.

However, this project also highlights some of the challenges related to the use of blockchain technology.

The general weakness of the use of the blockchain lies in its interface with other technologies and in the rest of the world. I wrote first about Blockchain's "last mile problem"."In this case, the last mile challenge comes from the fact that it is still possible to limit access to the data created on the blockchain, for example by prohibiting the website that displays it.

Finally, perhaps the biggest challenge to privacy lies in the fact that digital data usually live forever unless someone makes efforts to eliminate them. Blockchain is even more extreme; almost guarantees that the data live forever. Corrections can not be made. Stories can not be changed. This raises challenges. What aspect do defamation rights have when records can not be erased by the blockchain? What about the "right to oblivion" that is integrated into the privacy policy in some countries? In the case of sexual harassment, these are not just questions to protect the accused. What happens if a victim comes to regret making a statement publicly and wants to withdraw it, perhaps to protect their privacy or even their security?

Nonetheless, "Every Snowflake" suggests the possibilities of blockchain in our "post-truth" world. Not all interesting commercial ideas or proposals require blockchain. But where data integrity is essential, it can be transformative.

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