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Leveraging Web3 “For the Good”: Slower is Faster

Web3 is growing so fast right now that it’s hard to digest quickly, and the problems plaguing the real world, the original Internet, and Web 2.0 also exist in Web3; rushing to associate “good” with Web3 ignores the complexities: in In the face of centralized control, inherent energy consumption, betrayed trust, squeezed marginalized people, etc., Web3 is undergoing a revolutionary change in the way the backend operates, and it will continue to exist and develop. , and we’re thinking, how can we build a Web3 world where “X for the good” is not a separate endeavor, but the underlying spirit of everything built, distributed, and used?

On 2 February 2022, WWF-UK made a splash on social media with a statement about ‘Tokens for Nature’: a fundraiser to be sold Non-Fungible Tokens electronic certification or certificate) to support efforts to protect 13 of the world’s most endangered species.

The WWF-UK chapter had planned to carry out the campaign on a so-called second-layer blockchain network called Polygon, which they claimed to be “Ethereum”. A functional public blockchain platform that provides an “environmentally friendly” version of a decentralized ether virtual machine to process peer-to-peer contracts through its dedicated cryptocurrency, ether. But that’s not the case with Polygon: Buying crypto tokens in exchange for Polygon’s own currency means relying on infrastructure that consumes a lot of energy to maintain. The reversal was so swift that the item disappeared in just 48 hours.

Figure iStock/ Black Salmon

“Natural Tokens” is just one of many “for good” projects or activities that are rapidly growing and aim to capitalize on the booming “Web3″/third generation internet. “Web3” is the umbrella term for a collection of decentralized models, protocols, and technologies—blockchains, DeFi (decentralized finance), NFTs, crypto tokens, and more—that have attracted both innovators and scammers. The mere mention of Web3 is enough to drive stock prices up (or more recently down), so everyone from celebrities to central bankers is scrambling to strategize. It’s growing so fast that it’s hard to fully digest; on any given day (depending on the day’s initiatives), it’s hard to tell whether Web3 is thriving, scaling, or shifting. Its models are being built, used and exploited, but often without a clear understanding of its potential and pitfalls, and certainly without a set of standards or models for accountability and governance.

Applying the “good” framework to Web3 brings its own complexities. X-Forward projects in technology and social impact are largely built on the theory that the right tools applied to the right problems will yield large-scale societal benefits. The “X” in these projects has historically involved tools like artificial intelligence, data, virtual reality or gaming, or social media and communication platforms, to name a few. At its best, the X-Forward framework allows for community-led development of appropriate tools to help make a positive social impact in areas such as poverty alleviation or social justice movements. However, it often leads to technological solutionism (translator’s note: tech solutionism, according to an interview with Evgeny Morozov, is a popular ideology that reshapes complex social phenomena into computationally solvable problems), and the tool imposed on the community, and these tools were neither designed for nor by the community. As Mark Latonero puts it, “The deeper problem is that there is no large-scale societal problem that can simply be addressed by the brightest corporate technologists in partnership with the most respectable international organizations. superior.”

The social sector is still grappling with the “good” in the context of storied technological tools and platforms, but there are few sure answers. So why should the social sector care about Web3 when it may be just another short-lived craze, or has already had such a torment-worthy start? This is a good question.

The reality of Web3 is not a “what if” if the history of the web over the past 30 years is any guide. Since 2008, when someone under the pseudonym “Satoshi Nakamoto” introduced Bitcoin to the world, developers have been working on it. The concept of blockchain can be traced back even earlier. Even the NFT concept, which felt like it broke out last year, was first realized in 2014. Billions of dollars have been invested in this development, considered the “next wave of digital infrastructure.” Investing not only revolves around the so-called creator economy, but also around the macroeconomy and its orbit through the work of global banks, software companies, media empires, and hundreds of thousands of developers. So, we have reason to say unequivocally: Web3 is here to stay.

However, any new frontier of innovation can, and does, include chaotic failures. Applications of the components of Web3 range from state-sponsored projects to spontaneous bedroom tinkering, and the motivations and quality of management behind these projects are equally varied. Some of these technologies and platforms that make up the Web3 world will indeed fail, or fail to deliver on the huge promises offered.

Like social media and Web 2.0’s “connection” tools before it, Web3 was conceived as a means of wresting control from the corrupt or malign political interests of technological dominators. But Web3 itself doesn’t come with any magic. Simply targeting economies at risk by applying a “better” framework is the equivalent of what media activist Olivier Jutel calls “blockchain imperialism.” The problems plaguing the real world, the original internet, and Web 2.0 also exist in Web3, which can travel at the speed of cryptocurrency transactions, creating (and documenting) disruptive power asymmetries.

So the question we’re interested in is: How do we build a Web3 world where “X for the good” is not a discrete endeavor, but the underlying ethos of everything built, distributed, and used? While we are at a stage in the evolution of Web3 where exploitation and inequality may become entrenched and rigid, we believe that we still have an opportunity to effectively shape it for shared prosperity and justice . The best approach is to slow down, take a minute to check, and then intentionally and proactively build systems of protection, privacy, and fairness as part of the framework.

three challenges

There are three related challenges in Web3 that any advocate of positive social impact must address.

1. Decentralized technology does not equal distributed power . Web3 has become synonymous with the decentralized web, and one of the selling points of Web3 technology is decentralization or shared ownership of network infrastructure. In practice, however, ownership tends to be concentrated among those who already have the resources, the rich (even if only the rich with coins), and companies.

As the example of OpenSea in the NFT market shows, risk is too easy to spread out to users while returns are still very concentrated On platform owners and a few players. Even Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin has warned about the concentration of power in Web3 token-based economies, saying that cryptocurrency “whales” could have too much power in these economies . Unless ownership is shared and distributed by the majority, especially by those who have traditionally been most vulnerable to exploitation, the system becomes inherently exploitative.

For this reason, equitable power structures must be actively designed in Web3 systems.

2. A significant percentage of existing power holders have built their Web3 business models on exploitation and grabbing. Currently, these business models extract energy and other resources, harm our climate and environment, as well as energy-starved communities, and in some cases actively revive wasteful or harmful power projects. They do so without addressing these issues in their core business model (without even creating an offset, which is less than ideal, but still better than nothing).

These models are designed to avoid being financially or environmentally responsible to platform users or disadvantaged communities. But even so, they demand our trust?

3. Building community trust requires more than decentralization. Those who are building distributed technology often claim that this is the solution to the trust deficit, “trust” that is inherent in the system. but it is not the truth.

Building trust, among other actions, requires deep listening and honest engagement. As Molly White writes: “How will this technology be used to harass and abuse people? (This question) is often not asked, especially given that the people most at risk of abuse and harassment are often The population composition of the industry is underrepresented and underrepresented.”

Or as Sydette Harry put it: “The opportunists among the creators of technology, who never pass up the opportunity to make the same mistake many times, have created tools . . . they collect and make users Twitter lists and accounts of people outside of traditional backgrounds. With articles and products like this, people can ‘diversify’ and collect ‘new experiences’ rather than hiring black writers or reporting on black experiences based on context. The message becomes: You need to know what black people are doing, but you don’t need to talk to them.”

Exploitation – especially of those historically marginalized – has taken place in many forms on existing online platforms, examples of which include: surveillance; unrestricted hate speech, harassment and violence Appeals; failure to protect vulnerable users; attempts to silence tech industry critics; for-profit extraction and manipulation of data without informed consent; appropriation of work products and processes without compensation or attribution; etc. . Why should we automatically trust those who have historically profited from process, product, and community pain, especially when Web3 exploiters look so similar to, or in some cases the same people, Web2 exploiters Time?

Too many people building Web3 haven’t solved this problem. There is no accountability or remedy (whether peer-to-peer or institutional) for those who might be exploited on a Web3 platform. Remediation for the effects of platform and programming flaws is often through post-event procedures, and those seeking remediation rely heavily on exploiting media headlines, or fear of them, to create pressure. All while distributed systems allow billions of dollars to be diverted to hate groups without transparency or accountability.

When Web3 initiatives endanger communities, backfire, or betray their trust, what can communities—especially those with “X for the good” initiatives—do? Rarely, other than pointing at ledger and hoping for some form of fix. Technologies that reproduce previous power asymmetries are not self-trust systems. Having a decentralized ledger on these topics doesn’t magically do this.

No room for “fail fast”

If there’s one thing we should have learned from the toxic Web 2.0 spill that we’re currently working on cleaning up, it’s that “X for the better” is often a bad strategy for the planet and its creatures. The hasty “cleaning” of social media companies in Russia, for example, is just the latest example of dangerous hindsight self-regulation. In the era of Web 2.0, “doing social good” has become the cloak of “doing anything”: as long as it can make the most money, as long as it can drive the fastest growth, and as long as it is “too-big to be regulated” (too-big -to-regulate) conditions.

Currently, Web3 is in danger of repeating its mistakes. We’ve seen vaguely worded social impact initiatives, from NFT galleries that share proceeds with charities, to social fund audits on the blockchain, to social good coins (cleverly named SocialGood) that claim to share a portion of spending with charities . Whether it’s trying to provide transparency on the flow of money, protect intellectual property, or simply automate altruism, there seems to be a rush to prove that Web3 has a social good side, not just a new digital way to accumulate new forms of wealth .

However, this mission to do social good — in the process of expanding the boundaries of cryptocurrencies — looks like an opportunistic afterthought, using social influence or social good (however vaguely defined) as a head start Web3’s justification or cover, often entering with little experience, along with no guidance, poor information, and a lack of common sense, ethics, and empathy. Aside from WWF-UK’s missteps in energy-consuming technology, take the example of charity water, which offers a service that instantly turns your cryptocurrency donation into fiat…and then uses it to fund clean water projects without mentioning the need for energy can erode the environment and… well, you see what we’re talking about.

From an obnoxious PR stunt to the infamous “nothing” at SXSW Interactive in 2012 Homeless Hotspots” are all in the same tone, too many of these early initiatives rudely refer to the suffering of others as “content”, and the end result is no less than a “poverty as a source” on a distributed ledger. Pornography”.

Take Floydies, an NFT project purported to express solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. However, this amounts to racist exploitation of the image of George Floyd for the creator’s own benefit and expansion. These NFTs were eventually delisted from OpenSea.

Another example is, a series of NFTs featuring images of ongoing conflict and carnage in Ethiopia. The group behind the attempt had originally planned to produce NFTs of fair-trade artwork produced by female Tigray artisans, but war conditions thwarted those plans, and they turned to selling NFTs of images of victims of the conflict. It’s difficult to determine whether any money has been raised for at-risk communities through these sales. Regardless, the image and the NFTs based on it are paternalistic and disempowering for local residents.

In another more recent example, the Associated Press placed an iconic image on their NFT marketplace of a rubber boat carrying migrants across the Mediterranean to raise money for their own nonprofit newsroom . The Mediterranean is basically a mass grave of immigrants from East and North Africa, the Middle East and other regions. The Associated Press made the announcement on the same day Russia went to war with Ukraine in 2022 — which will predictably lead to the displacement of millions of refugees — and has been criticized for profiteering and exploitation. The Associated Press took down the ad.

The world has no time to waste on projects like this. We don’t have time for a forked network: that is, technology is bad/neutral vs technology is good. This is especially true as we stand on the brink of intersecting social breakdowns brought about by environmental crises, displacement, inequality, authoritarianism, and the loss of democracy. Social good is not the “icing on the cake” of current and future technological systems.

imagine a new network

If Web3 offers an opportunity to fix our failures, it requires an internalized value system, not an optional one. This means that social good needs to be an integral part not only of ethics , but of the architecture and rulesets of any new network or technological paradigm. When we consider the application of digital technologies for social good, or more importantly, how can we transform our present into a fair, just, happy and productive future in a world where Web3 technologies are part of life, This is especially critical and necessary.

There have been some good explorations and projects pointing the way forward. For example, WITNESS, an organization with decades of experience at the intersection of human rights and technology. Black Christians Who Make Choices), has partnered with the Filecoin Foundation to provide activists and non-professionals People have discovered ways to use decentralized ledgers to securely and truthfully document violations that put them at risk from centralized networks.

In another area, culture shapers such as the founder of the Afrofuture Strategies Institute, British Ingrid LaZeur, has been applying the lens of distributed technology to issues of inclusion, ownership, and platform control in communities in less resourced regions.

Likewise, the DisCO Project has presented its DisCO Manifesto to Support the development of distributed cooperatives around the world and “provide prototypes for new and radical forms of ownership, governance, entrepreneurship and value accounting to combat pervasive economic inequality”. There are signs that the Web3 community may react to injustice faster than its Web2.0 predecessors. Recently, the most vocal representative of the .eth ENS address system has been an openly determined paranoid, and leading figures in the Ethereum community, Dame.eth and others, have been quick to call for a solution to this toxic leadership through community governance.

Based on our own decades of experience (in technology development, vision and social change, rights and global development), we believe it is necessary to make four fundamental principles the cornerstone of any Web3 initiative, most importantly for those interested in direct Or those who indirectly improve the condition of people and planet:

  • Intentionality
  • Accountability
  • Mutually affirmed norms
  • An ethics framework

When trillions of dollars of value are up for grabs, these creeds may be seen as idealistic, and opportunities to reposition power in many industries and sectors beckon. The objection that there is no alternative is easily overwhelmed by the false dualism of “optimism/pessimism.” But we are not interested in alternatives. We propose a whole new paradigm, a new social contract, acknowledging that these trillions of dollars of value are meaningless in the face of what is happening to the planet and its people. Let’s remember that we all live here too, and the underprivileged have the least say for too long in determining this paradigm shift.

This has to change. Discussions of different things – no, requirements, have to start here.

For your convenience, we’ve put together our recommendations and calls to action in the form of “dos and don’ts” for those considering, or even undertaking, Web3 initiatives dedicated to social impact.

don’t want:

  • Don’t ignore or try to circumvent the inherent energy consumption issues of Web3. The downstream impacts of Web3 will hit vulnerable populations the hardest, now and in the future. Unless this critical issue is fundamentally and concretely addressed, Web3 will continue to export environmental damage into the future, dramatically propelling not only ourselves but the next generation into irreversible climate catastrophe.


  •  Don’t use creating artificial offsets as a way to rid your work of negative externalities. Social influence is not a connivance framework that can be used to offset other negative impacts caused by Web3 projects.


  •  Do not create new financial risks for people who are already at risk. Pushing the poor, precarious, underbanked or otherwise economically disadvantaged into greater uncertainty by introducing volatile, speculative financial instruments into the economy can do more harm than good. People living in precarious conditions do not have the privilege of HODLing for promised gains.


  • Don’t impose new technologies on people who already have “technical debt” from the past. Technocolonialism is replete with examples of new innovative technologies being airdropped friendly to communities that cannot sustain those innovations for long. Even among the most advanced user groups, security breaches can appear quickly.


  • Don’t use technology to reduce or eliminate “donors”‘ real-world exposure to the causes they support. While this may be the intent of your initiative, it is likely to be an unintended consequence unless the donor is also informed that they wish to contribute to a need or crisis for improvement.


  • Don’t support “Poverty as Porn” even if it’s packaged as an NFT. This is especially critical when images of suffering or vulnerability are misappropriated without the express and informed consent of the creator or the person being portrayed.

To do:

  • Take advantage of current social influence frameworks and networks designed by activists and advocates with first-hand experience with the harms of concern.


  • Ask the technology and its enthusiasts for the transparency it promises: audit, audit, audit. Verify, verify, verify.


  • Provide privacy and security to the community members supporting the technology, and obtain their informed and affirmative consent.


  • Check whether immutability and “intelligence” are desirable characteristics in the context of the community you are trying to help.


  • At conferences, conferences, panels, and on your platform, point out harmful or “socially whitewashed” projects.


  • Support activists around the world who are exploring how to leverage the benefits of distributed ledgers for privacy, protection and verification/attribution


  • Listen to and design for, co-design with, or give way to those who have historically been marginalized and called for change.
  • Invest in “laboratories of worldmaking,” a concept defined by Oliver Jeter in a conversation with Evgeny Morozov of The Crypto-Syllabus. The holistic nature of our global social problems requires us to think about how we can achieve shared prosperity, justice and equity. We haven’t built solutions, processes or practices in the community. As Jouter said in the same interview, “We have to embrace the experiment and acknowledge that we currently lack the answers.” Build, support, or participate in this larger quest.
  • Keep learning, exploring, and asking questions. The time has come when we can no longer ignore the fundamental mechanics of the distributed ledgers technology/blockchain space. These must be taught and learned if we are to have a chance to stem the tide of major Web 2.0 entities taking over them.


  •  Cut out these guidelines and paste them on your nearest cryptocurrency mining equipment (Editor’s note: China completely bans virtual currency mining and trading, translations are from different contexts, please do not violate relevant laws and regulations). If you keep them in mind when thinking about your strategy, you may find yourself making a real positive impact rather than heading for a Web3 “watering hole” trying to disrupt a particular group of end users by infecting websites that members of that group are known to visit) is yet another digital roadkill.

We believe it’s possible to move “good” from scrap to incorporating positive social impact into the fabric of Web3: economic liberation, yes, but also racial and gender justice, equality, inclusion, and participation. That’s a huge requirement, and one that runs counter to how many technologies we’ve learned in the real world work. That’s all the more reason why this is a requirement worth making explicitly.

Scott Smith is the founder and managing partner of Changeist, a future research and consulting partnership established in the US in 2007 and now headquartered in the Netherlands.

Lina Srivasteva is the founder of the Center for Transformational Change, a global impact platform that nurtures the power of communities for a just future.