“The Future of the Internet & Democracy” with Project Liberty Founder Frank McCourt and Journalist Maribel Perez Wadsworth

During an event titled “The Future of the Internet & Democracy,” McCourt spoke with award-winning journalist and former president of Gannett Media Maribel Perez Wadsworth to unpack the state of the internet today, what is at stake, and what is possible.

Frank McCourt, founder and executive chairman of Project Liberty, was the featured speaker at the Society of the Four Arts’ lecture series on January 24th in Palm Beach, Florida. During an event titled “The Future of the Internet & Democracy,” McCourt spoke with award-winning journalist and former president of Gannett Media Maribel Perez Wadsworth to unpack the state of the internet today, what is at stake, and what is possible.

McCourt opened the discussion by asking the event’s 300 attendees: “How many of you are comfortable with our current social media?” No hands were raised. The unanimous response set the tone for a conversation that focused on the urgent need for healthier technology and social media models.

McCourt highlighted how Silicon Valley’s “move fast and break things” mentality ushered a new era of both innovation and significant challenges related to user safety and privacy. Project Liberty was launched to address these challenges by developing and supporting a new digital infrastructure that enables internet users to own and control their data – with safety, privacy, and equity as front-and-center priorities.

When Wadsworth asked McCourt what it would take to drive mass adoption of a new internet infrastructure, he emphasized how the tech component of Project Liberty builds tools for people to exercise their freedom to choose new options. Through the development of the Decentralized Social Networking Protocol (DSNP) – an open-source protocol – Project Liberty enables creation and collaboration for healthier social media models, thereby providing alternatives for people who wish to move away from today’s dominant social media platforms.

While Web3 technologies offer new tools and opportunities, Project Liberty sets itself apart by being more than just a technologist-led project. “We need to have social scientists and other people, so that we actually bring good governance to the table this time,” McCourt said. “And we, as citizens, need to demand better. Just like we do in our community.”

A key pillar of Project Liberty’s work is raising awareness about Big Tech’s scope of influence on ordinary life, due to major platforms’ unprecedented extraction and exploitation of user data. The scraping of data from our personal “social graph,” our digital footprint, happens across not just social media but in all aspects of our daily lives. “Our data is enormously valuable,” McCourt said. “Together, people can really use that data in incredibly powerful ways.” Wadsworth agreed, noting that democratic institutions are at odds with how much information today’s dominant tech companies have aggregated on their consumers: “We’re living, I think, the dystopian side of things with autocratic technology, and a surveillance mechanism.”

Toward the end of the conversation, McCourt once again turned to the room and asked: “How many people here think they should own their data?” All hands raised.

McCourt pointed out that ownership over personal data may be one of the only issues that the American public agrees on in a time of increasing polarization. “So, let’s start with something we agree on,” said McCourt. “And let’s go fix it.”

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