The Ethics of Censorship Resistance

Recently, Binance Chain and Binance Smart Chain have increased in usage thanks to congestion on Ethereum.

Also recently, several people have started posting politically censored material on Binance’s chains.

This opens up several ethical questions that I think are valuable for anyone involved in crypto to ruminate on.

Censorship resistance is a valuable tool. It allows for people to transact, create, and act in manners that their government or other authorities might try to stop. It is the fundamental defining feature that gives cryptocurrency meaning.

Binance Chain and Binance Smart Chain seem by all measures to be much more centralized than Ethereum. Binance likely exaggerates the amount of censorship resistance that this chain potentially offers. This puts their validators and individuals associated with Binance at increased risk. To exploit this fact and prove a point about decentralization and censorship resistance several people have uploaded contracts to the chain that the Chinese government is likely going to want to censor, the contents of these contracts range from politically inconvenient for the Chinese government, to absolutely despicable.

This is not the first time that someone has uploaded despicable content to a blockchain to prove a point about censorship resistance. Bitcoin has had for years links to child sexual abuse imagery stored in the ledger. Bitcoin Satoshi’s Vision (a poorly named fork of a fork that does not seem to include Satoshi or his vision in anyway) has had child sexual abuse imagery uploaded directly to it’s ledger.

The ethical implications for this case in specific are quite troubling due to the nature of the government of China. China is an authoritarian government, actively committing a genocide, who is not afraid of taking extreme actions against those who deviate from the official line.

So what is the ethical issue? The person who created and uploaded the contract is placing an individual or several individuals in danger. They themselves are under minimal risk. This is done in order to communicate a message about censorship resistance.

The contracts that were deployed are not meant to help oppressed people, they are not meant as a way to stand against tyranny. They are bait with the goal of attracting harm to those who run a competing chain.

On a long enough time period it was likely that eventually a contract that was objectionable to the government would have been deployed and these individuals would have experienced pressure or harm nonetheless. Observing that fact is however ethically different than being the person who directly attempts to incite harm. Especially since again, this harm is not a byproduct of creating useful tools that depend on and test the limits of censorship resistance, but instead the harm is the entire point.

Intentionally inflicting harm upon others is nearly always ethically wrong and I believe this was ethically wrong.

P.S. Daniel Goldman did an excellent thread with his thoughts on the ethics of the situation, we largely agree:

I think we agree that a centralized chain that markets itself dishonestly is putting its users (and itself) at risk of getting into some very dangerous situations. My point is that this doesn’t justify triggering such a dangerous situation yourself.

- Daniel “cd ../” Goldman (@DZack23) February 28, 2021

Originally published at http://bennettftomlin.com on March 1, 2021.

I no longer post here, please check: https://bennettftomlin.com/

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