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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Zion Wants To Free Social Media From Big Tech Through The Lightning Network

Announced earlier today, Bitcoin-based social network Zion has launched with the mission of eliminating reliance on large tech companies for content creation and sharing, providing an alternative that does not collect user data, censor speech or withhold portions of payments meant for content creators.

“With Zion, technology companies are completely eliminated and users interact in a secure, censorship-resistant, private utility that facilitates free and open flow of content and payments between users and their audiences,” according to a press release from the platform. “There is no way to manipulate how users experience the network and absolutely no data is collected, ever.”

Social Media Built On The Lightning Network

According to its website, Zion offers a mobile app on which users can post content like videos and memes, add comments, join communities, send encrypted messages and access a non-custodial bitcoin wallet. To leverage the platform, users must maintain their own nodes for the Lightning Network, Bitcoin’s second layer platform that enables near-instant micropayments by establishing channels between users and only settling the balances of these channels on the main blockchain once they are closed.

Zion uses LND, an open-source Lightning Network implementation created by software developer Lightning Labs. Zion users have the option of setting up their own nodes or renting them from the upstart social platform itself.

“We have two ways for people to get on the network: Renting a node or configuring your own LND node with our relay software,” Zion creator Justin Rezvani explained to Bitcoin Magazine. “These nodes also include a pre-set up channel that allows you to use LND right away and use the app as seamlessly as any normal social media app. Our nodes, which are non-custodial, also allow you to be hassle free, as we take on the headachaches of node management. We’ll tackle things like backups, networking and version upgrades for you.”

Zion currently runs more than 1,000 Lightning Network nodes on its network and it plans to double capacity each month. It expects to use $1 million raised in seed investment to hire additional engineers and Lightning Network developers.

Ultimately, hosting these nodes and facilitating the Lightning Network payments between users is how Zion’s team expects to collect revenue in the absence of advertisements, data collection and the other revenue streams employed by Silicon Valley’s tech giants.

“We have two revenue models: hosted nodes and network routing fees,” Rezvani said. “One thing to clarify though is that every single user has full control of their funds, as they are the ones who manage the private keys. They are running their own nodes and have full custody of their bitcoin. Whoever controls your private keys controls the nodes.”

Freeing Professional Content Creators Through Bitcoin

The ability for users to reward content creators directly with bitcoin through the Lightning Network is a founding principle for the Zion team and a feature that it believes will solve a fundamental problem with social platforms today.

“There’s a number of problems with value transacting that myself and other creators run into with the old paradigm of social media,” JP Sears, Zion’s founding creator, told Bitcoin Magazine. Sears’ “AwakenWithJP” YouTube page has nearly two million subscribers and his videos regularly satirize self-serious progressives and wellness advocates. A recent video of his, titled “A Federal Hate Crime To Criticize Fauci? BREAKING NEWS!,” has received more than 345,000 views as of this writing.

“Fans want to support a creators’ work, yet the big tech platforms always want a large cut of revenue that is ultimately earned,” Sears added. “Another problem is that most of the existing social media platforms are designed to extract value from viewers and fans through personal data collection, manipulative algorithms and selling the audience’s attention to advertisers. As a creator, it doesn’t feel good knowing big tech’s method for allowing them to support me necessitates that their privacy and psychology be violated.”

Sears said that his own journey to embracing Bitcoin involved the all-too-common initial belief that it was a “giant pyramid scheme.” But after author and life coach Tony Robbins (who is an investor in Zion) sent him the video of an interview he did with MicroStrategy CEO Michael Saylor, Sears’ outlook on Bitcoin changed.

“I quickly began to see bitcoin as not just an investment, but as a powerful way to store value,” Sears recalled. “Then, as I began to better understand Bitcoin technology and the Lightning Network, I realized that Bitcoin can empower people in even more important ways than just financially. It can be the facilitator of freedom and sovereignty for them.”

People often think about Bitcoin’s aptitude to facilitate freedom strictly as an alternative to restrictive legacy financial services. But as a sovereign payments rail, Bitcoin can also empower free speech, content creation and exchange of ideas on a platform like Zion.

“As a content creator and comedian, I’m hungry to throw away the big tech filter that all of my creations currently have to go through,” said Sears. “My content is often heavily censored just to be able to reach my fans. But with Zion, I’m most excited about having full creative freedom to give my fans my real work, my best work, without fear of censorship. Being able to connect directly with my fans in our Zion community to exchange ideas and information in an atmosphere of freedom is what I’ve been wanting.”

But while many creators doubtlessly seek to interact with their fans directly and exclude tech giants from their revenue streams, Bitcoin and the Lightning Network still present technical and philosophical hurdles for many. Sears believes that Zion clears those hurdles, while maintaining the unique offerings of the technology.

“One of the reasons I was so resistant to bitcoin for so long is because I didn’t know how to buy it and anytime I’d ask people, the technical jargon that didn’t land in my frame of reference became a barrier to entry,” Sears said. “Fortunately with Zion, that’s not the case. It’s built by engineers for the common person with an easy-to-use interface. Though Zion is a fantastic tool that Bitcoin enthusiasts have already fallen in love with, you don’t have to be a Bitcoin enthusiast to use it.”


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While Europe Demonstrates Totalitarian Inclinations, Bitcoin Comes To The Rescue

Europe has lately been taking clear steps towards totalitarianism, showcasing a desire to take control of people’s lives, from communication to private property. In the last few days, individual moves by different countries in the continent have further illustrated this trend. Thanks to Satoshi Nakamoto, however, we at least have bitcoin –– the unstoppable peer-to-peer currency set to be the answer.

European Parliament Approves Mass Surveillance Of Private Communications

The European Parliament has approved the “ePrivacy Derogation”, which allows email and messaging service providers to search all personal messages of citizens automatically. The alleged motivation backing this action is to search “for presumed suspect content and report suspected cases to the police”, as shared by Patrick Breyer, digital freedom fighter and member of the European Parliament since 2019.

“In today’s vote, 537 Members of the European Parliament approved Chatcontrol, with 133 voting against and 20 abstentions,” Breyer wrote. “While providers will initially have a choice to search or not to search communications, follow-up legislation, expected in autumn, is to oblige all communications service providers to indiscriminate screening.”

However, what this totalitarian move effectively represents is a new and automated mass surveillance reality in the European Union. Citizens will be prevented from enjoying private conversations in networked mediums altogether. Digital privacy should be acknowledged as a natural extension of human privacy rights, something the United Nations supposedly recognizes.

“No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation,” reads Article 12 of the U.N.’s Declaration of Human Rights. “Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”

It is therefore unclear how much mass surveillance action could pass Parliament. Breyer also shared his thoughts on the EU’s new regulation:

“The adoption of the first ever EU regulation on mass surveillance is a sad day for all those who rely on free and confidential communications and advice, including abuse victims and press sources,” he wrote. “The regulation deals a death blow to the confidentiality of digital correspondence. It is a general breach of the dam to permit indiscriminate surveillance of private spaces by corporations – by this totalitarian logic, our post, our smartphones or our bedrooms could also be generally monitored. Unleashing such denunciation machines on us is ineffective, illegal and irresponsible.”

Such a move by the European Union infringes upon human rights and doesn’t necessarily lead to its desired outcomes. According to Breyer, in most cases innocent citizens come under suspicion of having committed an offense due to unreliable processes. Therefore, in this case, the many pay a toll for the actions of a select few through an indirect, fallacious claim that the ends justify the means.

Child abuse and pornography, seemingly central aspects to the law’s approval, would also not be eradicated by these surveillance mechanisms.

“Indiscriminate searches will not protect children and even endanger them by exposing their private photos to unknown persons, and by criminalising children themselves,” wrote Breyer. “The right approach would be, for example, to intensify undercover investigations into child porn rings and reduce the years-long processing backlogs in searches and evaluations of seized data.”

Russia Is Preparing Legal Amendment To Allow Bitcoin Confiscation

According to Russian news outlet TASS, the country’s lawmakers are working on legislative amendments to authorize the confiscation of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies under the claims that they are allegedly being used for criminal activities.

“A serious challenge is the criminal use of cryptocurrencies in our country,” said Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation, Igor Krasnov, according to a translated version of the report. “A significant step in overcoming this problem was the adoption in July 2020 of the federal law [on digital assets]. Currently, work is underway to amend the criminal procedural legislation. This will allow the application of restrictive measures and confiscation of virtual assets.”

Krokov later added that bitcoin has increasingly been used for bribery and corruption in Russia. The solution, he thinks, is to allow the government to seize BTC. He believes this would deter future criminals from using bitcoin for illegal activities.

“The latency of these criminal acts has recently been aggravated by the use of crypto assets as bribes, the performance of cryptocurrency exchange operations as a way to launder stolen budget funds,” Krasnov said.

The prosecutor’s remarks demonstrate a profound misunderstanding of how Bitcoin fundamentally works. If users transact with BTC that they custody themselves, there is virtually no way for the government to interfere. Russian officials, or those from any other country for that matter, cannot stop, censor or revert bitcoin transactions. And BTC seizure is no different –– a third party cannot hijack bitcoin under self-custody unless through personal or remote attacks. The only scenario this could happen would be if the transacting parties utilize centralized services of bitcoin custody and transmission such as, for example, a centralized exchange. But in that case the users would not be transacting BTC anyway.

It remains to be seen how the Russian government will proceed in the coming months. Nonetheless, this law would also mark a clear demonstration of authoritarianism and infringement of human rights if enacted. It does not make sense to punish use of the tool itself rather than the criminal user. If such an approach were to be applied to other monetary mediums of exchange, people would stop using dollars and traditional banks, which very often serve criminal purposes.

Spain Looking To Allow The Seizure Of Private Property

Over the weekend, the government of Spain started flirting with totalitarian measures itself. According to a report by local news outlet El País, Spain is mulling over a national mobilization and “security law” which would compel citizens to “temporarily” give up their rights in instances of future public health crises or other emergencies.

“Any person of legal age shall be obliged to carry out the “personal obligations” required by the competent authorities, following the guidelines of the National Security Council, when a state of crisis is declared in Spain,” read a translation of the report. “In this case, all citizens without exception must comply with the orders and instructions issued by the authorities.”

The vagueness of the statement suggests that nothing would be off-limits as it relates to legitimizing state authorities ability to invade citizens’ personal lives and private property, which is also cited.

“In the event that a state of crisis is declared in Spain (“situation of interest to National Security” is the exact name given by law), the authorities may also proceed to the temporary requisition of all types of property, at the intervention or provisional occupation of those that are necessary or the suspension of all kinds of activities,” states the report.

Although the future legislation would allegedly assure a “compensation” to follow, it is unclear if the government would endure it. And even then, this law would embody sharp, tangible detriments to fundamental human rights. This is because, since the state itself is the one to declare the “state of emergency,” any ruling government would enjoy the absolute power to act on it and seize and control what they see fit.

Bitcoin Is The Way Out

The monetary network idealized and shared by Satoshi Nakamoto in 2009 is uniquely positioned to empower those who find themselves trapped by totalitarian regimes that do not respect basic human rights.

Bitcoin, founded on a set of principles that value private property, individual freedom and financial sovereignty, can help those reclaim what is theirs and have meticulous control of what, how and when to spend their money and with whom.

People across the globe that research the basics of Bitcoin, learn how to properly leverage it for privacy, self-custody their holdings and run their own nodes to become self-sovereign will be able to peacefully withstand such totalitarian regimes in case they disseminate –– as well as to take a meaningful stance against them.


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Bitcoin Bulls Back Free Speech Platform With $3.8 Million Investment

Key Takeaways

  • Capital investors with a strong affinity for Bitcoin and crypto participated in seed funding round.
  • The platform will help content creators to monetize their content directly, and control their audience.
  • Due to past instances of bans and restrictions, crypto community is more likely to adopt such a platform.

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Locals Technology, Inc. raised $3.8 million in a seed round led by Craft Ventures with participation from notable crypto proponents in Balaji S. Srinivasan, Christian Angermayer, Alexander Lloyd, and Anthony Pompliano. 

Locals Promoting Free Speech

The Locals platform has introduced a subscription-based model which does not limit what users can and cannot see on their platform. 

The co-founder and CEO Assaf Lev said that:

“More than 95 percent of Locals content is being generated by supporters who are paid subscribers. This means more content and more revenue for our creators. We call it the ‘Locals flywheel’ and it is one of the main reasons creators are moving to our platform.”

Besides monetization, the platform will allow users to moderate their community, further bridging the gap between social media and content creators.

The move to alternative social media platforms has been a key focus this year and last. Among the most vocal critics of the current standard has been the crypto community. Many members of this community are also backing Locals.

Investors include Anthony Pompliano, founder of Pomp Investments, Alexander Llyod, writer of The Little Bitcoin Book and public speaker, and Balaji Srinivasan, a partner at Andreessen Horowitz and the former Coinbase CTO.

Crypto Crowd Likely to Jump First 

Crypto influencers have often been caught up in bans and restrictions on traditional social media platforms like Twitter and Youtube. Thus, moving to a more decentralized platform like Locals sounds ideal for the crypto community. 

During the 2020 U.S. presidential elections, another free speech platform, Parler, became quite popular among Trump supporters who were banned from mainstream social media platforms.

Allegedly, it also became the primary communication tool for organizing the U.S. Capitol riots

Apple and many Internet hosting services banned Parler after the coup attempt. Apple has, however, brought the social media platform back to its store yesterday. 

Preston Byrne, a lawyer at Anderson-Kill, was particularly enthusiastic about seed investment in Locals. He tweeted: 

“VCs clearly think that free-speech-as-a-service is a sufficiently high-growth space that they can justify investment in the area to their LPs even in the face of activist shrieking.”

Byrne added that the platform’s creators would be protected by U.S. law section 230, which eliminates the accountability of social media platforms for user content.

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