At this point, it is no longer controversial to say that journalism, and publishing generally, are in a crisis of power and trust. Whether we measure power in dollars or in “attention”, traditional authorities are losing their grip and the average person is less confident each day in which authorities to trust for information. In the last two decades, information businesses large and small, non-profits, government agencies, and religious organizations who publish information to a general public have all suffered a rapid loss of public trust and control over where their information goes.
It is increasingly clear where all their trust and power went: a handful of highly centralized and profit-maximizing information technology platforms got between them and their public, taking advantage of the trust-poor architecture of the early internet and commercializing it rapidly. These platforms hold increasingly monopolistic control over how publications find their readers, and over which publications readers will find when they search for information. It is just dawning on the general public how formidable this power is, and how it can be abused.
In a marketplace of ideas where anyone can buy eyeballs at the same price, all it takes is a bigger budget for bad information to crowd out good information, or for misinformation to drown out common sense. The falling price of a successful disinformation campaign might be the proverbial canary in the mineshaft, but the centralization of publishing power affects all journalism, all of the arts, and all knowledge production, all the way to the tiniest neighborhood newsletter or specialist research publication. Even a nonprofit cooperative of internet activists like us feels the struggle for attention, as we communicate to our global public from the homepage of a tiny .org website.
Our urgent needs for new public trust and new technologies for trusted communication and publication are intertwined: a socio-technical challenge with a solution both social and technical. Our mission is simply to produce technologies and promote governance concordant with our values for an internet rooted in good information, individual trust, and a technological Commons.