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How the Permaweb Prevents Abusive Content from Getting ‘Permanent Refuge’

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The world still grapples with abusive and illicit content in cyberspace, decades after the traditional internet was invented with the promise of freedom and interconnectivity. The content used to bully internet users and facilitate crimes such as terrorism, human trafficking, and child sexual harassment, has become easy to upload and increasingly difficult to remove due to some countries’ statutory laws and poor oversight from online platforms.

Data supports that the regular internet is no longer safe. According to the United Nation International Children’s Emergency Fund, about 80 percent of children in 25 countries report feeling in danger of sexual abuse or exploitation online. End Violence Against Children, in a global threat assessment in 2021, found that child sexual abuse happens everywhere, with 57 percent of girls and 48 percent boys experiencing at least one instance of online sexual harm in some regions across the world.

Indeed, the problem has persisted despite traditional internet’s centralised structure – a structure which gives governments and institutions, including law enforcement organisations and technology platforms, control over how the internet is used. This raises questions about whether an alternative like the permaweb could have the same challenge.

Built on Arweave’s blockweave, the permaweb can be used to store content including pictures, videos, web pages and applications. Immutability, perpetuity and decentralised storage are the permaweb’s distinct features. These features, however revolutionary they are, could give illicit content ‘permanent refuge’ if there were no built-in mechanism that allows users of the Arweave network to moderate content.

How much of a risk is this?

“[Arweave] creates a system that is fundamentally better than centralized, publicly owned tech companies that have a single hierarchy and board to report to,” said Phil Mataras, founder Ardrive. ”Instead of that single entity getting the ability to establish the ‘truth’ and censor the content across an entire platform, the role is delegated to thousands of node operators around the world in different jurisdictions. Each operator can choose to moderate the content for a transaction if the content doesn’t fit within their ethos.”

Content moderation on the Arweave’s network is open to everyone from operators to gateways and the public. The Internet Watch Foundation assists operators to keep abusive materials off the permaweb.

When users present content for storing on the permaweb, it goes through a process where independent operators – miners – screen the content using keyword searches, computer vision image and video analysis to determine that it is content they are comfortable with and does not violate local laws when they store and serve it to the public. One tool which helps miners with this is Shepherd.

While gateways (portals to the Arweave network) can moderate content by choosing which data to index and serve to their users, members of the public have the freedom to select which gateway to use.

Abusive and illicit content spreads rapidly when it gets on the internet, causing victims more pain and inspiring imitators. Arweave’s independent content filtering mechanism prevents such materials from being archived and spreading on the web. This decentralized consensus could be a more effective way of addressing the growing trend of online abuse and crime.


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