Why is a real estate billionaire spending $100m trying to fix social media?

Frank McCourt is creating a publicly accessible database of people's social connections to allow them to move records between platforms to avoid being locked into dominant systems

Frank McCourt, the billionaire real estate mogul and former owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, is pouring $100 million into an attempt to rebuild the foundations of social media.

The effort, which he has loftily named Project Liberty, centres on the construction of a publicly accessible database of people’s social connections, allowing users to move records of their relationships between social media services instead of being locked into a few dominant apps.

The undercurrent to Project Liberty is a fear of the power that a few huge companies – and specifically Facebook – have amassed over the past decade.

“I never thought I would be questioning the security of our underlying systems, namely democracy and capitalism,” Mr McCourt said.

“We live under constant surveillance, and what’s happening with this massive accumulation of wealth and power in the hands of a few, that’s incredibly destabilising. It threatens capitalism because capitalism needs to have some form of fairness in it in order to survive.”

Mr McCourt is hardly the only one to feel this way. Others are trying to reform social media by passing new laws or regulations, waiting for the next generation of start-ups to disrupt the current incumbents or pressuring Facebook to look inward and revise its business model. Mr McCourt, along with others such as Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey, say the solution may be blockchain, the technology underpinning bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

Project Liberty would use blockchain to construct a new internet infrastructure called the Decentralised Social Networking Protocol.

With cryptocurrencies, blockchain stores information about the tokens in everyone’s digital wallets; the DSNP would do the same for social connections.

Facebook owns the data about the social connections between its users, giving it an enormous advantage over competitors. If all social media companies drew from a common social graph, the theory goes, they’d have to compete by offering better services, and the chance of any single company becoming so dominant would plummet.

Building DSNP falls to Braxton Woodham, the co-founder of the meal delivery service Sun Basket and former chief technology officer of Fandango, the movie ticket website.

Mr Woodham had been toying with the idea of building something like DSNP, but didn’t imagine anyone would be interested in investing in it. When he mulled the idea over with Mr McCourt, he says, “I just thought we were talking about our daydreams, I didn’t think it was something we’d actually do”.

Instead, Mr McCourt hired Mr Woodham to build the protocol and pledged to put $75m into an institute at Georgetown University in Washington and Sciences Po in Paris to research technology that serves the common good. The rest of his $100m will go toward pushing entrepreneurs to build services that utilise the DSNP. Mr McCourt calls this his third attempt to fix social media, after previously investing in tech companies he thought would help transform the way people interact online.

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This is what the internet wants to be, and over time, more of it will be.

His previous attempts convinced him that entrepreneurs must be supported by academic thinkers exploring the industry’s biggest ethical questions.

The blockchain protocol idea echoes a project Jack Dorsey has been pushing at Twitter called Bluesky. Mr Dorsey has been at the centre of the fight over how companies like his should police their users. He said after Twitter banned former President Donald Trump that a blockchain-based social graph would reduce the stakes when private companies make user decisions.

“The reason I have so much passion for Bitcoin is largely because of the model it demonstrates: a foundational internet technology that is not controlled or influenced by any single individual or entity,” Mr Dorsey tweeted on January 13. “This is what the internet wants to be, and over time, more of it will be.”

While the power of social media companies makes many people uneasy, critics also accuse them of not wielding their power effectively, allowing for abusive behaviour.

A decentralised approach to social media could actually undermine the power of content moderation, by making it easier for users who are kicked off one platform to simply migrate their audiences to more permissive ones. Mr McCourt and Mr Woodham say blockchain could discourage bad behaviour because people would be tied to their posts forever.

Before Project Liberty grapples with such problems it has to worry about attracting enough people to matter. The current way of doing things is deeply entrenched and Project Liberty is proposing that the entire internet start doing things drastically differently.

Eventually, the group plans to create its own consumer product on top of the DSNP infrastructure, and wrote in a press release that the result will be an “open, inclusive data economy where individuals own, control and derive greater social and economic value from their personal information”.

Mr McCourt also believes that recent history has underscored the dysfunction of the current system, punctuated by the misinformation-fuelled riot at the US Capitol on January 6. What do social media users really have to lose?

“Look at the cesspool that’s been created,” he said. “Look at the reality that the internet has become.”

Gender pay parity on track in the UAE

The UAE has a good record on gender pay parity, according to Mercer's Total Remuneration Study.

"In some of the lower levels of jobs women tend to be paid more than men, primarily because men are employed in blue collar jobs and women tend to be employed in white collar jobs which pay better," said Ted Raffoul, career products leader, Mena at Mercer. "I am yet to see a company in the UAE – particularly when you are looking at a blue chip multinationals or some of the bigger local companies – that actively discriminates when it comes to gender on pay."

Mr Raffoul said most gender issues are actually due to the cultural class, as the population is dominated by Asian and Arab cultures where men are generally expected to work and earn whereas women are meant to start a family.

"For that reason, we see a different gender gap. There are less women in senior roles because women tend to focus less on this but that’s not due to any companies having a policy penalising women for any reasons – it’s a cultural thing," he said.

As a result, Mr Raffoul said many companies in the UAE are coming up with benefit package programmes to help working mothers and the career development of women in general. 

Gender pay parity on track in the UAE

The UAE has a good record on gender pay parity, according to Mercer's Total Remuneration Study.

"In some of the lower levels of jobs women tend to be paid more than men, primarily because men are employed in blue collar jobs and women tend to be employed in white collar jobs which pay better," said Ted Raffoul, career products leader, Mena at Mercer. "I am yet to see a company in the UAE – particularly when you are looking at a blue chip multinationals or some of the bigger local companies – that actively discriminates when it comes to gender on pay."

Mr Raffoul said most gender issues are actually due to the cultural class, as the population is dominated by Asian and Arab cultures where men are generally expected to work and earn whereas women are meant to start a family.

"For that reason, we see a different gender gap. There are less women in senior roles because women tend to focus less on this but that’s not due to any companies having a policy penalising women for any reasons – it’s a cultural thing," he said.

As a result, Mr Raffoul said many companies in the UAE are coming up with benefit package programmes to help working mothers and the career development of women in general. 

Gender pay parity on track in the UAE

The UAE has a good record on gender pay parity, according to Mercer's Total Remuneration Study.

"In some of the lower levels of jobs women tend to be paid more than men, primarily because men are employed in blue collar jobs and women tend to be employed in white collar jobs which pay better," said Ted Raffoul, career products leader, Mena at Mercer. "I am yet to see a company in the UAE – particularly when you are looking at a blue chip multinationals or some of the bigger local companies – that actively discriminates when it comes to gender on pay."

Mr Raffoul said most gender issues are actually due to the cultural class, as the population is dominated by Asian and Arab cultures where men are generally expected to work and earn whereas women are meant to start a family.

"For that reason, we see a different gender gap. There are less women in senior roles because women tend to focus less on this but that’s not due to any companies having a policy penalising women for any reasons – it’s a cultural thing," he said.

As a result, Mr Raffoul said many companies in the UAE are coming up with benefit package programmes to help working mothers and the career development of women in general. 

Gender pay parity on track in the UAE

The UAE has a good record on gender pay parity, according to Mercer's Total Remuneration Study.

"In some of the lower levels of jobs women tend to be paid more than men, primarily because men are employed in blue collar jobs and women tend to be employed in white collar jobs which pay better," said Ted Raffoul, career products leader, Mena at Mercer. "I am yet to see a company in the UAE – particularly when you are looking at a blue chip multinationals or some of the bigger local companies – that actively discriminates when it comes to gender on pay."

Mr Raffoul said most gender issues are actually due to the cultural class, as the population is dominated by Asian and Arab cultures where men are generally expected to work and earn whereas women are meant to start a family.

"For that reason, we see a different gender gap. There are less women in senior roles because women tend to focus less on this but that’s not due to any companies having a policy penalising women for any reasons – it’s a cultural thing," he said.

As a result, Mr Raffoul said many companies in the UAE are coming up with benefit package programmes to help working mothers and the career development of women in general. 

Gender pay parity on track in the UAE

The UAE has a good record on gender pay parity, according to Mercer's Total Remuneration Study.

"In some of the lower levels of jobs women tend to be paid more than men, primarily because men are employed in blue collar jobs and women tend to be employed in white collar jobs which pay better," said Ted Raffoul, career products leader, Mena at Mercer. "I am yet to see a company in the UAE – particularly when you are looking at a blue chip multinationals or some of the bigger local companies – that actively discriminates when it comes to gender on pay."

Mr Raffoul said most gender issues are actually due to the cultural class, as the population is dominated by Asian and Arab cultures where men are generally expected to work and earn whereas women are meant to start a family.

"For that reason, we see a different gender gap. There are less women in senior roles because women tend to focus less on this but that’s not due to any companies having a policy penalising women for any reasons – it’s a cultural thing," he said.

As a result, Mr Raffoul said many companies in the UAE are coming up with benefit package programmes to help working mothers and the career development of women in general. 

Gender pay parity on track in the UAE

The UAE has a good record on gender pay parity, according to Mercer's Total Remuneration Study.

"In some of the lower levels of jobs women tend to be paid more than men, primarily because men are employed in blue collar jobs and women tend to be employed in white collar jobs which pay better," said Ted Raffoul, career products leader, Mena at Mercer. "I am yet to see a company in the UAE – particularly when you are looking at a blue chip multinationals or some of the bigger local companies – that actively discriminates when it comes to gender on pay."

Mr Raffoul said most gender issues are actually due to the cultural class, as the population is dominated by Asian and Arab cultures where men are generally expected to work and earn whereas women are meant to start a family.

"For that reason, we see a different gender gap. There are less women in senior roles because women tend to focus less on this but that’s not due to any companies having a policy penalising women for any reasons – it’s a cultural thing," he said.

As a result, Mr Raffoul said many companies in the UAE are coming up with benefit package programmes to help working mothers and the career development of women in general. 

Gender pay parity on track in the UAE

The UAE has a good record on gender pay parity, according to Mercer's Total Remuneration Study.

"In some of the lower levels of jobs women tend to be paid more than men, primarily because men are employed in blue collar jobs and women tend to be employed in white collar jobs which pay better," said Ted Raffoul, career products leader, Mena at Mercer. "I am yet to see a company in the UAE – particularly when you are looking at a blue chip multinationals or some of the bigger local companies – that actively discriminates when it comes to gender on pay."

Mr Raffoul said most gender issues are actually due to the cultural class, as the population is dominated by Asian and Arab cultures where men are generally expected to work and earn whereas women are meant to start a family.

"For that reason, we see a different gender gap. There are less women in senior roles because women tend to focus less on this but that’s not due to any companies having a policy penalising women for any reasons – it’s a cultural thing," he said.

As a result, Mr Raffoul said many companies in the UAE are coming up with benefit package programmes to help working mothers and the career development of women in general. 

Gender pay parity on track in the UAE

The UAE has a good record on gender pay parity, according to Mercer's Total Remuneration Study.

"In some of the lower levels of jobs women tend to be paid more than men, primarily because men are employed in blue collar jobs and women tend to be employed in white collar jobs which pay better," said Ted Raffoul, career products leader, Mena at Mercer. "I am yet to see a company in the UAE – particularly when you are looking at a blue chip multinationals or some of the bigger local companies – that actively discriminates when it comes to gender on pay."

Mr Raffoul said most gender issues are actually due to the cultural class, as the population is dominated by Asian and Arab cultures where men are generally expected to work and earn whereas women are meant to start a family.

"For that reason, we see a different gender gap. There are less women in senior roles because women tend to focus less on this but that’s not due to any companies having a policy penalising women for any reasons – it’s a cultural thing," he said.

As a result, Mr Raffoul said many companies in the UAE are coming up with benefit package programmes to help working mothers and the career development of women in general. 

Gender pay parity on track in the UAE

The UAE has a good record on gender pay parity, according to Mercer's Total Remuneration Study.

"In some of the lower levels of jobs women tend to be paid more than men, primarily because men are employed in blue collar jobs and women tend to be employed in white collar jobs which pay better," said Ted Raffoul, career products leader, Mena at Mercer. "I am yet to see a company in the UAE – particularly when you are looking at a blue chip multinationals or some of the bigger local companies – that actively discriminates when it comes to gender on pay."

Mr Raffoul said most gender issues are actually due to the cultural class, as the population is dominated by Asian and Arab cultures where men are generally expected to work and earn whereas women are meant to start a family.

"For that reason, we see a different gender gap. There are less women in senior roles because women tend to focus less on this but that’s not due to any companies having a policy penalising women for any reasons – it’s a cultural thing," he said.

As a result, Mr Raffoul said many companies in the UAE are coming up with benefit package programmes to help working mothers and the career development of women in general. 

Gender pay parity on track in the UAE

The UAE has a good record on gender pay parity, according to Mercer's Total Remuneration Study.

"In some of the lower levels of jobs women tend to be paid more than men, primarily because men are employed in blue collar jobs and women tend to be employed in white collar jobs which pay better," said Ted Raffoul, career products leader, Mena at Mercer. "I am yet to see a company in the UAE – particularly when you are looking at a blue chip multinationals or some of the bigger local companies – that actively discriminates when it comes to gender on pay."

Mr Raffoul said most gender issues are actually due to the cultural class, as the population is dominated by Asian and Arab cultures where men are generally expected to work and earn whereas women are meant to start a family.

"For that reason, we see a different gender gap. There are less women in senior roles because women tend to focus less on this but that’s not due to any companies having a policy penalising women for any reasons – it’s a cultural thing," he said.

As a result, Mr Raffoul said many companies in the UAE are coming up with benefit package programmes to help working mothers and the career development of women in general. 

Gender pay parity on track in the UAE

The UAE has a good record on gender pay parity, according to Mercer's Total Remuneration Study.

"In some of the lower levels of jobs women tend to be paid more than men, primarily because men are employed in blue collar jobs and women tend to be employed in white collar jobs which pay better," said Ted Raffoul, career products leader, Mena at Mercer. "I am yet to see a company in the UAE – particularly when you are looking at a blue chip multinationals or some of the bigger local companies – that actively discriminates when it comes to gender on pay."

Mr Raffoul said most gender issues are actually due to the cultural class, as the population is dominated by Asian and Arab cultures where men are generally expected to work and earn whereas women are meant to start a family.

"For that reason, we see a different gender gap. There are less women in senior roles because women tend to focus less on this but that’s not due to any companies having a policy penalising women for any reasons – it’s a cultural thing," he said.

As a result, Mr Raffoul said many companies in the UAE are coming up with benefit package programmes to help working mothers and the career development of women in general. 

Gender pay parity on track in the UAE

The UAE has a good record on gender pay parity, according to Mercer's Total Remuneration Study.

"In some of the lower levels of jobs women tend to be paid more than men, primarily because men are employed in blue collar jobs and women tend to be employed in white collar jobs which pay better," said Ted Raffoul, career products leader, Mena at Mercer. "I am yet to see a company in the UAE – particularly when you are looking at a blue chip multinationals or some of the bigger local companies – that actively discriminates when it comes to gender on pay."

Mr Raffoul said most gender issues are actually due to the cultural class, as the population is dominated by Asian and Arab cultures where men are generally expected to work and earn whereas women are meant to start a family.

"For that reason, we see a different gender gap. There are less women in senior roles because women tend to focus less on this but that’s not due to any companies having a policy penalising women for any reasons – it’s a cultural thing," he said.

As a result, Mr Raffoul said many companies in the UAE are coming up with benefit package programmes to help working mothers and the career development of women in general. 

Gender pay parity on track in the UAE

The UAE has a good record on gender pay parity, according to Mercer's Total Remuneration Study.

"In some of the lower levels of jobs women tend to be paid more than men, primarily because men are employed in blue collar jobs and women tend to be employed in white collar jobs which pay better," said Ted Raffoul, career products leader, Mena at Mercer. "I am yet to see a company in the UAE – particularly when you are looking at a blue chip multinationals or some of the bigger local companies – that actively discriminates when it comes to gender on pay."

Mr Raffoul said most gender issues are actually due to the cultural class, as the population is dominated by Asian and Arab cultures where men are generally expected to work and earn whereas women are meant to start a family.

"For that reason, we see a different gender gap. There are less women in senior roles because women tend to focus less on this but that’s not due to any companies having a policy penalising women for any reasons – it’s a cultural thing," he said.

As a result, Mr Raffoul said many companies in the UAE are coming up with benefit package programmes to help working mothers and the career development of women in general. 

Gender pay parity on track in the UAE

The UAE has a good record on gender pay parity, according to Mercer's Total Remuneration Study.

"In some of the lower levels of jobs women tend to be paid more than men, primarily because men are employed in blue collar jobs and women tend to be employed in white collar jobs which pay better," said Ted Raffoul, career products leader, Mena at Mercer. "I am yet to see a company in the UAE – particularly when you are looking at a blue chip multinationals or some of the bigger local companies – that actively discriminates when it comes to gender on pay."

Mr Raffoul said most gender issues are actually due to the cultural class, as the population is dominated by Asian and Arab cultures where men are generally expected to work and earn whereas women are meant to start a family.

"For that reason, we see a different gender gap. There are less women in senior roles because women tend to focus less on this but that’s not due to any companies having a policy penalising women for any reasons – it’s a cultural thing," he said.

As a result, Mr Raffoul said many companies in the UAE are coming up with benefit package programmes to help working mothers and the career development of women in general. 

Gender pay parity on track in the UAE

The UAE has a good record on gender pay parity, according to Mercer's Total Remuneration Study.

"In some of the lower levels of jobs women tend to be paid more than men, primarily because men are employed in blue collar jobs and women tend to be employed in white collar jobs which pay better," said Ted Raffoul, career products leader, Mena at Mercer. "I am yet to see a company in the UAE – particularly when you are looking at a blue chip multinationals or some of the bigger local companies – that actively discriminates when it comes to gender on pay."

Mr Raffoul said most gender issues are actually due to the cultural class, as the population is dominated by Asian and Arab cultures where men are generally expected to work and earn whereas women are meant to start a family.

"For that reason, we see a different gender gap. There are less women in senior roles because women tend to focus less on this but that’s not due to any companies having a policy penalising women for any reasons – it’s a cultural thing," he said.

As a result, Mr Raffoul said many companies in the UAE are coming up with benefit package programmes to help working mothers and the career development of women in general. 

Gender pay parity on track in the UAE

The UAE has a good record on gender pay parity, according to Mercer's Total Remuneration Study.

"In some of the lower levels of jobs women tend to be paid more than men, primarily because men are employed in blue collar jobs and women tend to be employed in white collar jobs which pay better," said Ted Raffoul, career products leader, Mena at Mercer. "I am yet to see a company in the UAE – particularly when you are looking at a blue chip multinationals or some of the bigger local companies – that actively discriminates when it comes to gender on pay."

Mr Raffoul said most gender issues are actually due to the cultural class, as the population is dominated by Asian and Arab cultures where men are generally expected to work and earn whereas women are meant to start a family.

"For that reason, we see a different gender gap. There are less women in senior roles because women tend to focus less on this but that’s not due to any companies having a policy penalising women for any reasons – it’s a cultural thing," he said.

As a result, Mr Raffoul said many companies in the UAE are coming up with benefit package programmes to help working mothers and the career development of women in general.