The promise of the Internet as a means to “level the playing field’ has seriously gone off the rails. A two-day conference at The New School that just wound up this last weekend, explored the emergence of platform cooperativism. Platform cooperativism aims to return the democratic promise of the Internet away from the rapacious, heavily-leveraged extractive models of the so-called “sharing economy” such as Uber and AirBnB, and towards models of true user ownership and governance. As pointed out in a set of 5 summary essays that appeared in The Nation, these are not (mainly) technical challenges but legal and political ones. An example is FairCoop:
FairCoop is one among a whole slew of new projects attempting to create a more democratic Internet, one that serves as a global commons. These projects include user-owned cooperatives, “open value” companies structured like a wiki, and forms of community-based financing. Part of what distinguishes them from mainstream tech culture is the determination to put real control and ownership in the hands of the users. When you do that, the platform becomes what it always should have been: a tool for those who use it, not a means of exploiting them.
Many of these efforts will face an uphill battle, and as pointed out by Astra Taylor at the conference (she follows Douglas Rushkoff’s presentation in the video link), will probably be fiercely resisted by the newly entrenched platforms of Google, Facebook and the like. But we can also say the same thing about those platforms many of which were just small upstarts back in the 1990s. The real challenge is one that is familiar to evolutionary biologists in game theory: building systems that reduce the chance of “invaders” or “cheaters” (in this case, rapacious VC firms and super-capitalism in general) from swamping a population of mutually beneficial co-operators (or turning those cooperators into cheaters). It doesn’t have to be, and could never be, perfect: you’ll never reduce the population of cheaters to zero, but at least keep them from taking over your population completely.
Read more about platform cooperativism at The Nation…
Recently I stumbled across an old 2014 interview on Moyers & Company between Sherrilyn Ifill of the NAACP and Ari Berman of The Nation about the increasing attempts to suppress voting in many red states, through adding ever more onerous and complicated so-called “voter ID” laws. During the discussion they lay out all the details of why this disadvantages many people who have been voting using student IDs or other forms of ID for years. And with only 31 cases of in-person voter fraud ever documented in one billion of votes cast in all elections since 2000, it’s a solution in search of a problem. However it was this exchange near the end of the program that really stood out:
Ifill: ….The thing that is the coin of the realm for the common man, we’re coming for that too. we’re going to create this obstacle course that you have to go through in order to exercise this right that should come automatically with your citizenship.
Berman: We have a Supreme Court that wants to make it easier to buy an election than for everyday people to vote in one.