Declaration of Digital Independence

Version 1.3 (June 29, 2019; version history)

See also: Social Media Strike!FAQ about the project to decentralize social mediaResources

This document is included as Chapter 11 of my 2020 book, Essays on Free Knowledge. Please support the struggle for freedom by buying a copy!

Humanity has been contemptuously used by vast digital empires. Thus it is now necessary to replace these empires with decentralized networks of independent individuals, as in the first decades of the Internet. As our participation has been voluntary, no one doubts our right to take this step. But if we are to persuade as many people as possible to join together and make reformed networks possible, we should declare our reasons for wanting to replace the old.

We declare that we have unalienable digital rights, rights that define how information that we individually own may or may not be treated by others, and that among these rights are free speech, privacy, and security. Since the proprietary, centralized architecture of the Internet at present has induced most of us to abandon these rights, however reluctantly or cynically, we ought to demand a new system that respects them properly. The difficulty and divisiveness of wholesale reform means that this task is not to be undertaken lightly. For years we have approved of and even celebrated enterprise as it has profited from our communication and labor without compensation to us. But it has become abundantly clear more recently that a callous, secretive, controlling, and exploitative animus guides the centralized networks of the Internet and the corporations behind them.

The long train of abuses we have suffered makes it our right, even our duty, to replace the old networks. To show what train of abuses we have suffered at the hands of these giant corporations, let these facts be submitted to a candid world.

They have practiced in-house moderation in keeping with their executives’ notions of what will maximize profit, rather than allowing moderation to be performed more democratically and by random members of the community.

They have banned, shadow-banned, throttled, and demonetized both users and content based on political considerations, exercising their enormous corporate power to influence elections globally.

They have adopted algorithms for user feeds that highlight the most controversial content, making civic discussion more emotional and irrational and making it possible for foreign powers to exercise an unmerited influence on elections globally.

They have required agreement to terms of service that are impossible for ordinary users to understand, and which are objectionably vague in ways that permit them to legally defend their exploitative practices.

They have marketed private data to advertisers in ways that no one would specifically assent to.

They have failed to provide clear ways to opt out of such marketing schemes.

They have subjected users to such terms and surveillance even when users pay them for products and services.

They have data-mined user content and behavior in sophisticated and disturbing ways, learning sometimes more about their users than their users know about themselves; they have profited from this hidden but personal information.

They have avoided using strong, end-to-end encryption when users have a right to expect total privacy, in order to retain access to user data.

They have amassed stunning quantities of user data while failing to follow sound information security practices, such as encryption; they have inadvertently or deliberately opened that data to both illegal attacks and government surveillance.

They have unfairly blocked accounts, posts, and means of funding on political or religious grounds, preferring the loyalty of some users over others.

They have sometimes been too ready to cooperate with despotic governments that both control information and surveil their people.

They have failed to provide adequate and desirable options that users may use to guide their own experience of their services, preferring to manipulate users for profit.

They have failed to provide users adequate tools for searching their own content, forcing users rather to employ interfaces insultingly inadequate for the purpose.

They have exploited users and volunteers who freely contribute data to their sites, by making such data available to others only via paid application program interfaces and privacy-violating terms of service, failing to make such freely-contributed data free and open source, and disallowing users to anonymize their data and opt out easily.

They have failed to provide adequate tools, and sometimes any tools, to export user data in a common data standard.

They have created artificial silos for their own profit; they have failed to provide means to incorporate similar content, served from elsewhere, as part of their interface, forcing users to stay within their networks and cutting them off from family, friends, and associates who use other networks.

They have profited from the content and activity of users, often without sharing any of these profits with the users.

They have treated users arrogantly as a fungible resource to be exploited and controlled rather than being treated respectfully, as free, independent, and diverse partners.

We have begged and pleaded, complained, and resorted to the law. The executives of the corporations must be familiar with these common complaints; but they acknowledge them publicly only rarely and grudgingly. The ill treatment continues, showing that most of such executives are not fit stewards of the public trust.

The most reliable guarantee of our privacy, security, and free speech is not in the form of any enterprise, organization, or government, but instead in the free agreement among free individuals to use common standards and protocols. The vast power wielded by social networks of the early 21st century, putting our digital rights in serious jeopardy, demonstrates that we must engineer new—but old-fashioned—decentralized networks that make such clearly dangerous concentrations of power impossible.

Therefore, we declare our support of the following principles.

Principles of Decentralized Social Networks

  1. We free individuals should be able to publish our data freely, without having to answer to any corporation.
  2. We declare that we legally own our own data; we possess both legal and moral rights to control our own data.
  3. Posts that appear on social networks should be able to be served, like email and blogs, from many independent services that we individually control, rather than from databases that corporations exclusively control or from any central repository.
  4. Just as no one has the right to eavesdrop on private conversations in homes without extraordinarily good reasons, so also the privacy rights of users must be preserved against criminal, corporate, and governmental monitoring; therefore, for private content, the protocols must support strong, end-to-end encryption and other good privacy practices.
  5. As is the case with the Internet domain name system, lists of available user feeds should be restricted by technical standards and protocols only, never according to user identity or content.
  6. Social media applications should make available data input by the user, at the user’s sole discretion, to be distributed by all other publishers according to common, global standards and protocols, just as are email and blogs, with no publisher being privileged by the network above another. Applications with idiosyncratic standards violate their users’ digital rights.
  7. Accordingly, social media applications should aggregate posts from multiple, independent data sources as determined by the user, and in an order determined by the user’s preferences.
  8. No corporation, or small group of corporations, should control the standards and protocols of decentralized networks, nor should there be a single brand, owner, proprietary software, or Internet location associated with them, as that would constitute centralization.
  9. Users should expect to be able to participate in the new networks, and to enjoy the rights above enumerated, without special technical skills. They should have very easy-to-use control over privacy, both fine- and coarse-grained, with the most private messages encrypted automatically, and using tools for controlling feeds and search results that are easy for non-technical people to use.

We hold that to embrace these principles is to return to the sounder and better practices of the earlier Internet and which were, after all, the foundation for the brilliant rise of the Internet. Anyone who opposes these principles opposes the Internet itself. Thus we pledge to code, design, and participate in newer and better networks that follow these principles, and to eschew the older, controlling, and soon to be outmoded networks.

We, therefore, the undersigned people of the Internet, do solemnly publish and declare that we will do all we can to create decentralized social networks; that as many of us as possible should distribute, discuss, and sign their names to this document; that we endorse the preceding statement of principles of decentralization; that we will judge social media companies by these principles; that we will demonstrate our solidarity to the cause by abandoning abusive networks if necessary; and that we, both users and developers, will advance the cause of a more decentralized Internet.

Please sign if you agree!

You can also sign on






I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing…

Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to James Madison, Paris, January 30, 1787. Jefferson was the author of the original Declaration of Independence, signed on July 4, 1776.
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Please do dive in (politely). I want your reactions!

237 responses to “Declaration of Digital Independence”

  1. Keep going Larry, we’ve got to work to value our rights. When you’re ready, let’s Break It Down Show on your Wired article and the concept in general. Let’s make an audio record.

    1. Sounds good, Pete!

  2. Kamy Akhavan

    Hard to argue with your insights, Larry. That said, I’d love to see these ideas challenged by a worthy adversary… or ten. Maybe something you, EFF, Zuckerberg, and PBS could host. Keep those disruptive ideas coming!

  3. Suggestion to change the word “spirit” to “force” or something else in the following sentence as “spirit” has positive connotations that don’t fit.
    But it has become abundantly clear more recently that a callous, secretive, controlling, and exploitative “spirit” guides the centralized networks of the Internet and the corporations behind them.

    In addition, I feel there should be a section on transparency in addition to privacy. People should have the right to do things in an open/transparent manner for most activities while having the right of private data when desired (i.e. the open data approach of Twitter and the private manner of chat/email).

    I support this initiative with or without my suggested changes.

    1. Thanks for the feedback!

      Good point re “spirit.”

      Re transparency, surely it isn’t the ability to do things publicly that is under threat, right? Only the ability to effectively remain private is under threat. Am I misunderstanding?

    2. John L Reyes

      May God Bless you always !

  4. I concur.

    -G Taiho Decker

    Note about CA Prop 11 (1972)

    California has a, I believe UNIQUE, BASIC Right to Privacy passed in 1971 by CA Legislators AND SUBSEQUENTLY ALSO passed by California voters via Prop 11 in 1972.

    This gives this CA Constitutional the most force.

  5. This is long overdue.

    The tech community’s silence while its users’ rights are eroded will be the stuff of documentaries & case studies.

    1. Actually, you’re quite right.

      But I think I know why. It’s because most coders are corporate drones, and as soon as a lot of money started getting into Internet projects, the calculus started changing. We heard less and less about the wonders of open source, and more and more about the wonders of entrepreneurship, lean startups, the latest hip framework, etc.

      They sold out. And a lot of developers are wimps who don’t want to rock the boat if it means any risk to themselves.

      But there are still a lot of developers who have a classical liberal-libertarian point of view who were fascinated, even hypnotized, by the rise of Big Tech, and now they’re shaking themselves out of it. That’s true of me, for sure.en source, and more and more about the wonders of entrepreneurship, lean startups, the latest hip framework, etc.

      They sold out. And a lot of developers are wimps who don’t want to rock the boat if it means any risk to themselves.

      But there are still a lot of developers who have a classical liberal-libertarian point of view who were fascinated, even hypnotized, by the rise of Big Tech, and now they’re shaking themselves out of it. That’s true of me, for sure. There are also still plenty of old-fashioned liberals who care very much indeed about privacy and even about free speech. They aren’t going away either.

      1. Konrad Zeverin

        We need to look into new ways of doing things, like Dissenter, which adds a comment section on every URL, or that p2p Beaker browser.

  6. I fear that most are not the intellectual powerhouses you hope them to be. Stupid, they are not. But, this is already too long on the eyes.

    Maybe one version like this for people who want more info. Another for the advertising and it needs to be short and very universal, “to the point”, so it can be marketed as such.

    Something like this is going to take an enormous amount of marketing and coordination.

    I don’t understand what you are looking to achieve by such an initiative, though I agree with it completely.

    All for a blackout day essentially? Would it even send a message or would most of the people simply fall back into the same habits?

    People sign it and then go where?

    Is this a precursor to a new company you are offering? (fine by me)

    Should this initiative be more geared towards these tech companies and especially start ups?

    A real alternative that is advertised well and displays it’s strength right out of the gate is most likely the strongest antidote.

    A social network that screams freedom.

    But, most people are not libertarians. Do they really want unbridled freedom?

    Mommy isn’t going to like our non-nude ladies wrestling against each other if little Jimmy might see it.

    Our company has already been banned by Youtube, Dailymotion, Vimeo, and Tumblr for the sin of having pretty women wrestle each other. Privacy controls exist, yet many still push for action or punishment.

    I will help in anyway I can, but this is going to be a long road.

    1. I think you’re probably right that there needs to be a dumbed down version for most people. I’m not sure it’s in me to make one though. At this point, I have a feeling that there isn’t going to be enough support for this to go viral.

      Marketing and coordination, perhaps. I was hoping it would simply go viral. I just don’t have the motivation for all that. Perhaps at some level I ought to try, but I really don’t feel like it. I do have many other things to do of course.

      I do think it would send a message if there were enough people respecting the strike. But given the tepid reception so far, I don’t think very many people would. I think most people, even most people who agree with me, just aren’t as upset at Big Tech as I am.

      No, I don’t have any sort of project this is leading up to. At all. Honest.

      There are plenty of good attempts at freer social networks, and ones that attempt to follow something like the above principles. I was thinking of trying to organize mass tryouts of those social networks, but again, the support so far has been so underwhelming that I am probably not the guy to do that.

      I think I’m just going to get back into coding. I suspect that in the long run I’ll be able to get a lot more by implementing my own ideas than when trying to persuade others to implement them.

      What has me depressed is not just the reception to this Declaration. It is the, to me, rather shockingly mild response to all the revelations of censorship that have come out recently. Look, if Google executives and employers are caught on camera carefully explaining the strategy and tech behind their attempts to manipulate elections, and the response is to shoot the messenger, or videographer, we’re pretty much doomed.

      1. Don’t feel bad, it’s a group project.

        I am not in agreement in the slightest that we are doomed.

        2001? Highly brainwashed population.
        2005? Non stop tech, corp & celeb cheerleading.
        2010 Rebellion appearing.
        2017 Crypto, privacy apps, own sites, competitors.
        2019 YT can’t speak on Twit without getting wiped-out. Antitrust, global gov assault. Non borg networks in majority in many areas. Leaks, humiliations, testimony.

        They are having zero fun.

        1. You are early.
        2. People are on mobile (long form text is slow to travel). Video.
        3. You are trying to trash a thing on that thing.
        4. The internet is always slow to change. Seeds a planted, people learn, extend & progress.

        Open source it on a neutral domain to extend & progress it. If not, you know, you gotta push it daily for months. If it was already a thing, you wouldn’t have to do things.

        Better to code something awesome.

        The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.

        1. Golly, I was reacting to the very early reception to the Declaration of Digital Independence.

          When I wrote the above, I hadn’t realized that there was many orders of magnitude more interest in a social media strike…and that that would lead to interest in the Declaration and the ideas contained therein. I was just feeling a little discouraged, but I’m rather pumped up now!

        2. You have been pushing for a while & they are trying to do their ghosting, shadow banning, gaslighting (since 1948) so for a moment it felt like it wasn’t going to move but it always was, it’s an idea whose time has come. The strike & declaration are the same things delivered to different audiences.

          Web & passion move at different speeds.

          The frustrations & raw emotions are good to show. It’s seeing the battle & sacrifice that encourages many to engage. Seeing someone fall & get back up connects strongly with people.

          There is a giant silent majority who see no need to shout, are not intimated, don’t care (will be dealt with) & move forward slowly.

          The real push is about to arrive & their defences will crumble incredibly fast.

          Congrats on lighting the fire. Keep pushing over the hill.

          Don’t be discouraged (frustration is good), a few years ago I was saying “the internet is fulfilling the dream of an authoritarian control grid”, today I am saying “A new internet is on the way”. Change is happening at an incredible rate (I keep running list & it is now a lot of work everyday).

          It could have only happened quietly & with underhanded techniques. Now? A lot of people are aware & friction is at every level.

          Well done again.

      2. Ann Soyars

        It is time we take a stand against what is happening on the internet and declare our freedom of speech and that we own our digital data. I am in!

  7. Don’t be discouraged, truly. But, you are right. You will do much better getting back to being a wizard entrepreneur. That’s your (most likely) best contribution to society.

    This is all high minded and important stuff that must be contemplated. I feel like it’s one of those things society is going to have to get through and adjust to. 100 years from now, people will look back and see our digital footprint and see that we were not all complacent.

    It was simply that we did not know what to do.

    A hard realization for dedicated problem solvers such as ourselves.

    I would recommend the What is Man essay by Mark Twain for a bit on human dynamics when it comes to self interest. I think if more people keep getting censored, it will become a bigger deal. It’s just one of those things that’s not going to matter to people until it hits home.

    Keeping talking about it though. In that same essay he postulates that we don’t originate thoughts, they all come from the outside.

    Thus, keep pushing here and there, but perhaps keep your focus on what makes you happy and valuable.

    But, if we find some kid in his Mom’s basement that can solve this, let’s support the hell out of him. 🙂

    1. Very good points. Thanks!

  8. David Nelson

    I completely agree.

  9. Joseph Ratliff

    Who would have ever known we would have to do this again in the U.S. …

    “When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

    1. Yes. Well, it’s not quite the same thing, admittedly (I’m not suggesting violent revolution for one thing), but our rights are under attack, and it is by the people uniting and rising up against our oppressors (and that really is what they are, whether they admit it or not) that we can secure those rights.

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