The internet, as it exists now, consists primarily of many companies that keep accounts, or ledgers, of what we’ve posted, what emails we’ve sent or received, or what money we have in our bank accounts. These companies are often large corporations, such as Google, Facebook, X, Amazon, Apple, and Chase. We depend on these organizations’ goodwill for access to our digital property. With blockchain technology, it’s possible that in the future, internet users won’t depend on any individual organization for access to and management of their property. Rather, what one owns on the internet will be immutably recorded on the blockchain, so no large corporation—or anyone, for that matter—will be able to take your digital property away from you. Many refer to this idea as decentralization, because blockchain decentralizes bookkeeping authority. This technology, therefore, has the potential to be truly revolutionary, overturning business models, changing corporations, and enabling new means of engagement on the internet that aren’t so controlled by third parties.
Given this potential for change, how can Christians anticipate the future? What benefits and dangers might Christians need to consider in thinking about the future of the internet? Here are a few:
Free Speech. The right to free speech is often regarded as the right upon which all other rights are built. It encompasses our ability to share the faith openly without fear of persecution or censorship. Web3 consists of decentralized applications that run on the blockchain. The use of these independent protocols could represent both a danger and an opportunity for free speech, since we will perhaps no longer be at the mercy of tech or media companies that determine what’s appropriate to say. While it’s possible that with no filter whatsoever, free speech will descend into a chaos of noise, at the same time, undiluted gospel proclamation could benefit.
Constraint. The adoption of blockchain has the potential for harmful constraint, most notably the prospect of heightened regulation. For instance, nations can develop Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs) to assert tighter control over their currencies. China’s release of the digital yuan, which allows it to control, track, manipulate, and potentially block all transactions within its borders, is a case in point. Blockchain’s versatility, however, also enables the removal of constraints on fund transfers and international communication, since digital currencies aren’t inherently subject to central government control, with Bitcoin being one example. While this can inadvertently facilitate illegal activities, it also signifies that Christians’ finances perhaps wouldn’t be easily subjected to the whims of corporations with sinful agendas or oppressive political regimes. It could also make it easier to support missionaries and ministries in countries that are hostile to Christianity. Thus, blockchain could potentially offer Christians greater freedom, support, and encouragement, particularly in nations where gospel proclamation is suppressed.
Trust. The recent boom in AI technologies poses a risk for truth and trust in many ways because they can often convincingly imitate people and institutions. To combat this, blockchain could serve as the standard of origin for original content. For example, bad actors might maliciously create or distort a piece of content, such as an article or a video, but content posted on a blockchain is unalterable and can prove where a work came from, almost like a watermark. Blockchain could provide a “proof of truth” or “proof of originality” through a ledger of public, immutable, and permanent content ownership and authenticity.
Privacy. Unlike the current internet, where YouTube, Facebook, PayPal, and other organizations often require you to share personal details before using their services, decentralized apps don’t necessarily require users to provide personal data to access services and content or to make transactions. This enables anonymous usage. While anonymity can provide a cover for unhealthy and sinful engagement on the internet, Christians living under authoritarian regimes could leverage this anonymity to freely access gospel resources and donate to ministries without facing political persecution. By removing the need for identity verification, believers in oppressive contexts could engage in and contribute to global ministry efforts with minimized risk.