AI Image Service Bans Xi Jinping Pictures

Midjourney, an artificial intelligence (AI) service that generates images from natural language descriptions, has recently found itself in the midst of controversy. The company has banned users from creating pictures of Chinese President Xi Jinping, citing concerns about deepfakes. Deepfakes are manipulated digital representations produced by sophisticated machine-learning techniques that can be used to spread false information and propaganda.

While Midjourney’s ban was intended to prevent the proliferation of deepfakes on its platform, users have found a way to circumvent the ban by creating deepfakes of Xi using other methods. Midjourney has responded by disabling access to its free trial version. Although the platform still allows the creation of images featuring world leaders, the Chinese President is notably excluded. Any attempt to generate an image with his likeness or even mention his name in a prompt is strictly prohibited by Midjourney.

Critics, like Sarah McLaughlin, senior scholar at the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), have argued that the ban constitutes a form of censorship, undermining the fundamental principles of free speech and expression. While Midjourney’s intentions may have been to prevent the spread of deepfakes, the ban has sparked debate about whether it is ever appropriate to limit access to technology in this way.

In messages exchanged on the chat service Discord last autumn, Midjourney’s founder and CEO, David Holz, revealed that the firm had received complaints from local users about “various topics in different countries,” prompting them to block numerous related words. However, according to chat logs examined by The Washington Post, Holz refrained from listing the prohibited terms to prevent unnecessary controversy. Holz also mentioned that the prohibited words were not solely connected to China. Nonetheless, he recognized that China was a particularly sensitive matter, as political humor might put Chinese users at risk.

In response to the criticism, Midjourney has attempted to explain its decision. In a statement, the company stated that its ban on Xi Jinping images was not motivated by financial gain. Instead, the company claims that it was “for the greater good” to ensure that access to this technology was available to Chinese individuals. However, critics argue that this reasoning is flawed, as it assumes that Chinese individuals are incapable of using the technology responsibly.

Despite the ban, users of Midjourney’s platform have found a workaround by creating deepfakes of Xi using other methods. Some users have used the /imagine function and provided the full URL of an existing photo of Xi in the prompt. Others have used the /blend function to combine two existing photos. While these methods are not as seamless as generating an image directly from a description, they still allow users to create images of Xi.

In conclusion, Midjourney’s ban on Xi Jinping images has sparked debate about the limits of technology and free speech. While the company may have had good intentions, its decision has been criticized as a form of censorship. As the debate continues, it remains to be seen whether Midjourney will reconsider its decision or if users will continue to find ways to create deepfakes of Xi.


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Reversing Censorship on Ethereum

Since October 11, the proportion of Ethereum blocks that are compliant with orders made by the United States Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) has decreased to its current level of 47%, which is the lowest level since that date.

The most recent achievement in the fight against censorship comes about two and a half months and one day after the proportion of OFAC-compliant blocks reached its all-time high of 79% on November 21.

OFAC-compliant blocks are ones that do not include any transactions that involve parties who have been blacklisted by the Office of Foreign Assets Control within the United States Treasury Department.

Those individuals who are opposed to censorship inside the Ethereum ecosystem may see a decrease in the number of compliant blocks as a victory.

According to a statement released by the blockchain consulting company Labrys, the originator of MEV Watch, the decline may be linked to more validators choosing to utilize MEV-boost relays that do not filter transactions in compliance with OFAC standards.

The majority of the shift in market share has been taken up by the BloXroute Max Profit relay, the Ultrasound Money relay, and the Agnostic Boost relay in particular.

MEV-boost relays play the role of trustworthy middlemen between block producers and block builders, which paves the way for Ethereum validators to delegate the construction of their blocks to third-party block builders.

The Chief Executive Officer of Labrys, Lachlan Feeney, issued a statement on February 14 in which he expressed his satisfaction with the manner in which the Ethereum community has reacted to the censorship problem ever since it first appeared during the Merge event.

He pointed out that the recent decline of censorship-compliant blocks was especially noteworthy since it was accomplished without the involvement of a user-activated soft fork (UASF). He made the observation that “many individuals” of the Ethereum community had requested the soft fork prior to the Merge in order to resist censorship.

“I am incredibly proud of the Ethereum community for the progress we have made with this issue,” said Feeney, adding: “When we released the MevWatch tool drawing attention to a flaw within Ethereum, the community did not stick its head in the sand but instead rose to the occasion and made significant progress addressing the issue.” “When we released the MevWatch tool drawing attention to a flaw within Ethereum, the community did not stick its head in the sand but instead rose to the occasion and made significant progress

However, as Feeney emphasized, “there is still a great deal more work to be done.”

On August 8, OFAC sanctioned wallet addresses that transact using the Ethereum-based privacy mixing technology Tornado Cash. These wallet addresses are associated with Ether (ETH) and USD Coin (USDC).

On September 16, during the first 24 hours of Ethereum’s new proof-of-stake consensus mechanism, just 9% of blocks were filtered by OFAC.

Nevertheless, this number shot up dramatically over the subsequent two months, reaching its highest point of 79% on November 21.

After then, the proportion of OFAC-compliant blocks stayed anywhere between 68 and 75% until the 29th of January, when it dropped to 66%. Since then, in spite of a few brief increases, it has been consistently going down.


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OKX Website Blocked in Russia with Unknown Reason

The trading website of the OKX exchange has been blocked in Russia, according to Roskomsvoboda, a platform that keeps track of censored platforms.


The blockage remains unclear why the platform was being stopped and when it will be back online soon. However, the situation can offset the cryptocurrency ecosystem with the notion that the Russian government is all out for crypto-linked trading platforms.

Hasty conclusions may not serve users right as Russia is gradually beginning to wake up to the embrace of cryptocurrencies, with the sanctions from Western regulators still crippling the national economy. 

Since the war in Ukraine started, both countries have relied heavily on digital currencies for transactions as banks in the most affected areas were halted. 

It is unclear how Russia will want to sabotage crypto trading with the censorship of some of the biggest crypto exchanges around, considering the Ministry of Finance and the Bank of Russia have recently found grounds for adopting Bitcoin as a means of transactions.

While the Ministry of Energy is advocating for the mining of Bitcoin using excess energy, the ministry in charge of trade is also considering adopting the coin for international settlements for goods and services.

The evolution of cryptocurrencies has gone through many phases this year alone, and it has gone from attempts by the Bank of Russia advocating for its ban to a stage where it is now being considered a viable avenue to survive the current economic and financial hardship rocking the local economy.

Notably, digital currencies now occupy a crucial part of most countries’ financial ecosystems. With countries like Ukraine, El Salvador, and the Central African Republic pioneering the legalization of Bitcoin and digital assets, the narrative is changing as key regions like the European Union are actively working on implementing its regulatory framework tailored for the crypto industry through the Markets in Crypto Assets (MiCA) regulation.

Image source: Shutterstock


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Progressive group adopts Bitcoin as ING and PayPal block donations

Progressive International, a global organization supporting progressive left-wing activists and organizers, is moving into cryptocurrencies in response to getting de-banked by major payment and banking firms.

The organization took to Twitter on Monday to announce that it now accepts donations in cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin (BTC) and Ether (ETH) to defend itself against attempts to shut them out of the global financial system.

A spokesperson for Progressive International told Cointelegraph that Dutch ING Bank and payment giant PayPal blocked donations to the organization as well as their campaign of solidarity with Cuba to help vaccinate people against COVID-19. Per the representative, ING and PayPal were “acting in support of the United States embargo.”

The vaccination campaign, which was announced last month, aimed to spotlight the Cuban government’s progress with developing vaccines for COVID-19 and host a panel of experts to showcase their efforts.

“Progressive International relies on small donations from the public to fund our work,” the representative noted, adding:

“As a defence against attempts to shut us out of the international financial system, we are now also accepting donations in cryptocurrencies as well as fiat currencies. We are grateful for the donations we have received in cryptocurrencies.”

The spokesperson went on to say that this is the first time that the organization enabled donations in crypto. “We plan to continue to accept donations in crypto to support our work, not limited to Cuba, and may expand into other currencies where appropriate,” the person said.

Related: Diem stablecoin co-founder praises Bitcoin for censorship resistance

The representative said that the organization will update its website to include information about crypto donations soon.

At the time of writing, Progressive International announced on Twitter that the BTC wallet address has collected a total of 0.008 BTC ($307), while the ETH wallet address holds 0.715 ETH ($1,979).