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. Bravo Larry! UK calling, …it’s about bloody time. 😉

  2. Bjorno

    What’s happening here has happened before and it will happen again.
    And I am referring to the ongoing battle over Anti-Trust generally because
    we well know power seeks ultimate power.
    Ergo Google is becoming a case study in Anti-Trust activity as it attempts
    to corner the commodity information, a commodity some of us – me at least –
    never considered would play a role in the Internet of Things. Tim Pool
    and others have done great analysis teasing out the facts and discovering
    Google is not exactly censoring political content so much as they are
    shepherding content to maximize advertisement revenue. The shot heard
    around America at lest was when Immanuel Goldstein,… errr, Alex Jones
    was digitally decapitated over a period of 48 hours. And the take down
    included loosing access to five out of six bank relationships etc. No reason
    has been given to AJ to date so far as I know but the real reason is he was
    garnering MILLIONS of bux a month in ad revenue which I think Google
    wanted for itself. In the meantime many prominent voices have been
    banned or their ad revenue curtailed and or their views have declined
    by up to 70% or more over just the last few weeks. This has happened to
    Mark Dice, BlackConservativePatriot, Tim Poll, James Corbett, Amazing Polly
    (all have recently so stated) and many others including left – so called – leaning
    content creators.
    So, in light of all the comments above – makes my head hurt to read it all
    because it so constructive – I do not think the answer to this is Anti-trust At&T
    style regulation. And the why of it was laid out recently by James Corbett
    of the “Corbett Report”. Essentially James suspects Google WANTS the gov’t
    to step in, “Masah, masah oh masah pawlese don’t throw me in dat der
    briar patch!,” because Google is so powerful they will game the regulations
    (just like Obama allowed such to happen in spades over eight years in allowing
    big players to write their own “regulations”…) to FAVOR Google’s endeavors
    making it EVEN HARDER for competitors to ever get a foothold much less
    ever challenge Google’s digital dominance.
    Long story short, I agree the internet needs
    to work decentralized like blockchain.

  3. Endgame Napoleon

    I have mixed feelings about the Internet at this point. Some of the Internet’s negatives derive from corporate and government abuses—some from crassly opportunistic or outright abusive individuals who are up to no good.

    Some good things are hard to replace.

    The ability to write more fluidly in text editors that let you alter wording with ease is fun. Brilliant people’s blogs provide a wider range of ideas, and a better set of book previews, than the book cover blurbs and the magazine / periodical racks of pre-mobile-Internet bookstores, minus the charm and ambiance of the bookstores.

    Smartphone cameras, apps and the visual feast of the Internet: these are real tools for the arts. But the same structural issues of suppressed freedom, privacy violations and the most vile forms of abuse hamper the Internet’s visual sphere.

    Every Tom, Dick, Harry and greedy heir is trying to profit off of copyrighting mere snapshots. Photo hustling by heirs and amateurs puts a lid on First Amendment rights, removing the Internet’s capacity to be a bottom-up vehicle for political and artistic expression. Individuals cannot afford to pay for photos like publishers.

    Nothing nullifies everyday 4th Amendment privacy rights like a camera in every hand and on every public lamppost, with a giant digital bulletin board that can be used to erase human dignity in an instant, especially since there is no visual control for ordinary individuals. Then there are the evilest sickos, using the Internet to create a visual record of their violent deeds.

    The slow realization that tiny tidbits visual information, and even our spoken words in private settings, can be (or is) used for targeted marketing is mind boggling to non-technical people. It is like the Fourth Amendment is being carved up and unwittingly served to a bunch of marketers with every word we type, every photo we snap and every image that we save.

    That is far too invasive.

    Advertising has a long history—a much more democratic history—where professionals had to design content that appealed to wide audiences. They could not rely on privacy-obliterating technology to do their work for them.

    And privacy laws are already in place.

    Take academic privacy. Why, just a few years back, did individuals have to deliver sealed copies of their transcripts when switching from one university to another? Did the advent of the Internet change the laws, automatically populating the fields with exemptions from laws that stand in the way of profiteering by selling private information?

    Fourth Amendment privacy issues are willfully ignored, not just by social media. Tons of smaller Internet companies are cashing in on private data in the way that the back end of the financial services industry mines every nook and cranny of individual lives, trying to control all possible risk in the name of protecting the fortunes of the tiny fraction of the population that holds most of the wealth.

    But there is a difference between the cavalier way that companies from A to Z are hawking private information on the Internet and the way corporate back offices—however unprofessional many of them are—handle private information. It’s more controlled, less like strange companies breaking into your house, rummaging through your drawers, and offering up your private papers for sale to the highest bidder.

    I’ll probably sign this petition, although some thoughtful people are calling for social media and even search itself to be public utilities. They may see this as a way to ensure that all sides of the political debate are heard, like the Fairness Doctrine was supposed to do for broadcast news.

    But would government employees administer government-controlled utility search engines without favoring political content that helps to secure their jobs? Would the search favoritism change with shifting political appointees? Many critique Big Tech for its coziness with Big Government, attributing the political content favoritism to the government / corporate alliance.

    Status-quo corporate neoliberals (by any other name) in both parties do well.

    And it’s entirely unclear whether government employees would protect the privacy of individual citizens any more or less than corporate employees. We learned in the wake of the Snowden case that NSA employees violated the privacy of military spouses just for kicks and giggles, listening in on their intimate phone conversations.

    People just don’t take the protections in the US Constitution seriously anymore.

    The global Internet subordinates the legal values of independent nations to the appetites of a global user base. When billions can only be made from selling billions of users’ data, individuals are not even treated like customers in their own nation’s businesses, no more than we are treated like citizens with legal rights. It’s all about scaling the ransacking of dignity for a buck.

  4. RS

    I don’t use social media much. I have a Facebook account but I haven’t posted anything in years. In my younger years, I was keen on social media. But later on, I found it to be a source of distraction and time waste. Now, in my 30s, I often find myself looking at social media usage as a kind of immature or pointless behavior. The only social media platform that I use regularly is Whatsapp. So, I will share this on Whatsapp.

    I hope initiatives like this nudge people to care more about things like privacy and be more prudent in how they use social media. While I agree with you regarding the need for decentralizing social media, curbing the trade of user data, and protecting free speech, I am also interested in seeing people use less social media in general. I really hope that social media strike leaves a lasting impact.

    With Cambridge Analytica and other scandals fresh in people’s mind, now may be the best time for such initiatives. In the future, it may become harder to wean off from these services. Sooner or later, social media companies will roll out new ways to permanently hook people by making their service indispensable. Perhaps, Facebook’s digital currency project is a step in this direction.

  5. PrivacyMe

    Larry, I salute your efforts. Buck and White Fang would agree.

    Now please remove the google font (spyware) from this site 🙂 It’s called Poppins, btw. It’s probably there from the WordPress theme, but AFAIK there are plugins to easily remove google fonts.

    (If anyone is curious, google supplies ‘free and helpful’ custom fonts which webmasters and theme authors dutifully throw in everywhere. So then google knows when all of you came to this page, because your browsers tell google where you are at in the ‘referer’ Header when getting the font.)

    After that, you might well consider writing an article about how and why you did so. That would come across as authoritative, and could be referred to by people asking others to remove google fonts from their sites. You might be surprised over how many pro-privacy and anti-monopoly sites include google fonts. It’s pathetic. A major site here in UK is one.


    You say you want to do related coding? Where are you discussing that?

    1. Jaysus, I didn’t even know. I’ll do so soon, for sure. Shouldn’t be hard.

      I’m not sure what you’re referring to when you say I said “related coding.” I haven’t done much coding in the last six months 🙁 🙁 but I definitely plan to get back into that a lot, and soon. Here’s my Github…which, yes, I’m thinking of moving to Gitlab, or even my own NAS. Just never took the time.

  6. PrivacyMe

    “related coding”

    Well, I mean privacy related things, since privacy invasion is what leads to the huge profits, which leads to the huge abuses. Browser extensions for the masses, since most people can’t or won’t delve into understanding what the complicated current privacy extensions (like uBO) do. Things that would be less powerful and easier/quicker to produce, but much more widely adopted. Please write an email to me if you would like to hear some ideas I’ve been mulling… but Just never took the time on 🙂

    Or a classical liberals’ + progressives’ version of Dissenter, the third party commenting extension put out by which is meant to do an end run around censorship. Though that would be a big project, of course,

    Lots of things.

  7. robert orians

    I’d like to see a list of names and addresses for a high tech hit list . Oh , not to kill them but just so we could send them birthday cards and holiday greeting of course .

  8. If you have the vision, then forget about coding and publish a solid design specification instead. Others could help make it happen a lot faster that way, and adapt already existing projects to align with your framework. You might even be able to attract some funding for the effort.

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