Last year, McCourt founded the nonprofit Project Liberty, a bold-bordering-on-improbable project to fix the internet. And on Monday, he announced his intention to step down from his chief executive position at McCourt Global to devote most of his time to the cause.
McCourt believes that the dominance of a few Golathian social media platforms will give way to “a thousand Davids” that better cater to smaller communities with more specific interests and needs. This has already begun, with apps like BeReal and Mastodon gaining huge interest in the past half-year. “Tech is such a big important part of our lives. It should be optimised for people, not for time online, ad revenue, or rage,” he told TIME in a recent interview. He says the first step is a much more holistic approach that doesn’t put engineers squarely in charge of a societal project. “Last time around, we made a mistake by having the social scientists, governance experts, and civil society somehow be subordinate to the technology,” he says.
Larkin, the new CEO of Project Liberty, boldly predicts that within five years, most social media users will be on a decentralised social media graph; McCourt says three. “We have an ambitious timeline in terms of creating real change fairly quickly, because I don’t think we have time,” Larkin says. “Social media is the main driver of undermining democracies, so we can’t wait around.”
Challenges to Overcome
Technologists who have worked in the decentralisation space far longer than McCourt are cautiously optimistic about Project Liberty. “I’m really excited that Frank McCourt and Project Liberty are bringing a different level of resources to this space than has typically been here. And I think that that could accomplish a great deal,” says Glen Weyl, an economist and a researcher at Microsoft Research. “At the same time, there are really challenging technical problems that can’t be solved theoretically. They have to be resolved through actual experiments, with real user bases—and they’re at the beginning of their journey of exploring that landscape.”