Jason Reed/The Daily Dot

The voices defining Web3: Meet the users fighting NFT-based hate speech on the new internet

'At the end of the day, the community is responsible for telling society what is and is not acceptable.’

 

Rebekah Harding

IRL

Posted on May 4, 2022   Updated on May 4, 2022, 11:26 am CDT

The internet scoffed at singer Grimes’ assertion in 2021 via viral TikTok that a universal basic income could be achieved through “crypto and gaming”—only for her comments to be followed by a boom in trading of non-fungible tokens. Also known as NFTsNFTs, or non-fungible tokens, are blockchain-backed assets that Web3 users can purchase with cryptocurrency. Many users describe NFT trading as “virtual art collecting” and can use these digital assets to interact in the metaverse using virtual or augmented reality technology., these are crypto-backed digital assets, and many believe that decentralized currency along with Web3-based Users control their own privacy and data, based in blockchain. virtual and augmented reality applications might prove that a more equitable internet is within reach. 

However, the release of racist NFTs like “Floydies” that caricature George Floyd and “Metaslaves” that use images of Black people show that some of our world’s most pervasive social issues also exist in the newest phase of the web. If racist NFTs are visible in the metaverse, BIPOC users will face harassment that includes hateful depictions of police brutality victims and racial trauma. 

While Web3 lacks central, regulatory guidelines, community members and some NFT brands are vocal in their opposition to NFTs that promote hate speech. These responsible netizens are creating anti-bullying NFT brands and leading community-led doxxingWhile doxxing typically refers to the nonconsensual release of an individual’s sensitive information like their address, Web3 users have co-opted the term to refer to when an anonymous user has their real-life identity, such as their name and photo, revealed. campaigns against brands and users who are persistent in their harassment of minorities. 


Unlike Web2Users can generate and post their own content as well as view content from others—or the internet as we know it—Web3 is a blockchaina secure data structure used to store data and record information that pledges to be more difficult to hack than prior systems-based, decentralized version of the web, which means that users don’t have to give their data to entities like Meta, formerly known as Facebook, and Google. While this innovation allows for greater utility and augmented and virtual reality compatibility, it also means that tracking down the users who are promoting hate speech and harassment is more difficult. 

TikToker Kes (@kes.io), an internet culture commentator who works in data science and maintains a small collection of NFTs, proposed a doxxing campaign against the creators of racist digital assets to his followers in a viral TikTok on Feb. 10.

The caption of the video reads, “If u search for ‘floydies’ in #opensea – u can get the wallet address of the buyers. Maybe some of them can be sussed out.”

Kes.io TikTok explaining 'Floydie' NFTs
@kes.io/TikTok (Fair Use) Kris Seavers

In the Web3 space, a digital wallet stores cryptocurrencya blockchain-based, decentralized currency that is used to make digital transactions and other crypto-backed digital assets like NFTs. Kes clarified in a call with the Daily Dot that while he and his followers successfully found the identities of some wallet owners, they eventually “chose not to release that information.”

“I’m not opposed to exposing free information on the internet that’s publicly available,” Kes said. “But when it’s a public open exchange, I do want everyone to know that for any wallet associated with the continued promotion of hate speech or racist rhetoric on a publicly-owned forum, it should be the owners of that forum that determine whether or not they want that to accurately represent what’s being sold or bought in their exchange.”


While NFTs might just look like regular JPEG images or video clips, these crypto-backed assets can have virtual manifestations in metaverse3D, digital world that can be interacted with using virtual or augmented reality-supported tech platforms like Meta’s Horizon Worlds, which would allow other users to interact with and view the NFT. While this function has some valuable applications like beta-testing fashion launches and gaining access to exclusive perks, the lack of regulation and low-entry bar in the NFT space makes it possible for the creators of racist NFTs to remain anonymous and avoid accountability.

“Currently there are no regulations for NFTs. Anyone can do it and there are platforms where they can mint for free,” Arvin Khamseh, an NFT marketing expert who has spoken at several major crypto events around the world, told the Daily Dot. “Many of these projects have no license, no business structure, and they keep the money in the crypto market and never disclose it.”

Although Metaslaves have been removed for purchase on OpenSea, a Polygon blockchain-based NFT marketplace, their removal has the potential to increase their demand. The NFT lives in the wallet and can still be sold, traded, and auctioned—bumping the condemned NFTs to rare status. 

In an email to the Daily Dot, an OpenSea spokesperson said that “OpenSea has a zero-tolerance policy for listings that incite hate. We enforce this policy in various ways, including delisting content, banning collections, and banning accounts.”

Kes told the Dot Dot that even though the blockchain continues to exist in the wallet, as long as the platform refuses to host the visual manifestation of the racist NFT in the metaverse, users without access to the wallet that contains them will not see them while navigating virtual or augmented reality spaces. 

“In terms of community accountability, it’s just making sure that the serial key doesn’t have a public representation and public open spaces,” Kes said. “There’s no way to revoke the number, but there’s definitely a way to stop people from showing it.”


While it can be tedious for users to track down anonymous, individual wallet owners, holding Web3 companies and crypto-asset trading platforms accountable for hosting racist NFTs may be a more viable way to mitigate hate speech.

“If it’s a [NFT] display, you can anonymize who owns those physical addresses, but at the end of the day, you’ll trace it to somewhere eventually,” Kes said. “Even if their identity is anonymized, the identity of the person or company actually publishing that space is not.”

Some NFT lines include anti-harassment at the core of their business model, even going as far as “pre-doxxing” their creators to promote brand transparency. Boujee Bullies, a woman-led NFT collection founded by Soraia Malaquias, fully “self-doxxed” its leadership team prior to its launch to promote trust with its customer base and other users on Web3. While doxxing usually refers to leaking a victim’s personal information with malicious intent, many NFT thought leaders have appropriated this term to refer to any instance in which a Web3 entity’s Web2 identity is available to the public. 

The brand has also committed to donating a percentage of its profits to Stomp Out Bullying, a nonprofit that advocates against cyberbullying, an issue that has come to the forefront with viral news headlines like a woman who says she was sexually harassed in the Metaverse and the growing notoriety of racist NFTs. 

Boujee Bullies Instagram
https://www.instagram.com/p/CcSkiYOOxTd/

“There’s a lot of mistrust in the Web3 space. We decided to doxx ourselves for two reasons,” Malaquias told the Daily Dot. “One, so that people know where to find us and therefore can trust that Boujee Bullies is a legit endeavor, especially because we will be donating money to a major nonprofit organization. The other reason is that our artist has worked on Hollywood films and has a real source of credibility to her talents.”

Malaquias believes that preventing NFT-based hate speech and harassment “comes down to culture” and has made it part of Boujee Bullies’ core mission to foster education and inclusivity with its platform. The brand plans to provide mental health resources to its community members.

“The way we as a community can hold other communities accountable is by refusing to associate with brands that do not align with us and what we’re about,” Malaquias said. “We already have a financial empowerment channel within our discord, and as we grow, we will be incorporating mental health coaching calls and empowerment sessions for community members.”

While many users may still choose to remain anonymous, TikToker Kes agrees that it will be up to the community to hold Web3-based businesses and individuals alike accountable to relieve this next phase of the internet from harassment and inequity. 

“It’s up to us to determine as a society, do we want this thing in a public space that’s not owned by anyone?” Kes concluded. “At the end of the day, the community is responsible for telling society what is and is not acceptable.”


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*First Published: May 4, 2022, 6:00 am CDT