What are the responsibilities of blockchain companies when it comes to freedom of expression? A controversial cartoonist finds out the boundaries.
“I would describe myself as a transgressive artist,” the conservative cartoonist who calls himself Stonetoss, told Forkast.News. On Nov. 20, Stonetoss released 5,000 non-fungible tokens based on characters found in his work, listing them on Rarible and OpenSea NFT marketplaces. Calling his cartoon characters “Flurks,” Stonetoss said the sale was a huge success, selling out in just over 20 minutes for a total of 420 ETH worth US$1.8 million.
But hours later, both Rarible and OpenSea pulled the Flurks series from their listings without offering an explanation why, adding fuel to the debate over content moderation in the growing NFT marketplace.
Stonetoss is no stranger to controversy — he says he has received death threats in the past — which is why he only wished to be identified by his artist name. His cartoons often depict right-wing interpretations of issues regarding race, LGBT+ rights and vaccine mandates. While the Flurks themselves do not contain any explicit commentary, they do contain imagery relating to these themes, such as Confederate flags and red MAGA hats that are popular with Donald Trump supporters. Stonetoss believes his art was delisted due to the politics that he is associated with, rather than based on the actual content of his NFTs.
But is getting kicked off OpenSea and Rarible a troubling form of “censorship” and an infringement of artistic freedom, as Stonetoss says, or is it within these companies’ right to include only content that they like? With OpenSea alone controlling over 98% of the Ethereum trading volume market share, according to DuneAnalytics, do these blockchain marketplaces have a moral obligation to do more to defend freedom of expression, even if the views may be odious to a majority of its users — especially for a blockchain-powered industry that often champions decentralization as a safeguard to censorship?
Industry leaders themselves seem divided on these issues, and the extent of obligation and responsibilities of blockchain companies when it comes to freedom of expression.
“Whenever we talk about decentralization, it’s not about a cowboy town where you could just come in with anything,” Anndy Lian, founding member of NFT creative studio Influxo, told Forkast.News. “You have to follow the rules.”
Just as a physical gallery has the right to decide what art they wish to exhibit, Lian says NFT platforms are no different — and just because an expression exists as an NFT does not excuse it from the cultural consequence of its message.
“If the artist or the artwork is subjective, there is a chance that it will be removed,” Lian said. “This has nothing to do with [whether it’s an] NFT or not. This happens in the art world, in galleries too. This is surely not about decentralization and decentralization is not about just freedom.”
Anndy Lian is an early blockchain adopter and experienced serial entrepreneur who is known for his work in the government sector. He is a best selling book author- “NFT: From Zero to Hero” and “Blockchain Revolution 2030”.
Currently, he is appointed as the Chief Digital Advisor at Mongolia Productivity Organization, championing national digitization. Prior to his current appointments, he was the Chairman of BigONE Exchange, a global top 30 ranked crypto spot exchange and was also the Advisory Board Member for Hyundai DAC, the blockchain arm of South Korea’s largest car manufacturer Hyundai Motor Group. Lian played a pivotal role as the Blockchain Advisor for Asian Productivity Organisation (APO), an intergovernmental organization committed to improving productivity in the Asia-Pacific region.
An avid supporter of incubating start-ups, Anndy has also been a private investor for the past eight years. With a growth investment mindset, Anndy strategically demonstrates this in the companies he chooses to be involved with. He believes that what he is doing through blockchain technology currently will revolutionise and redefine traditional businesses. He also believes that the blockchain industry has to be “redecentralised”.