GOSH, that was a mistake. I was chatting with my artist friends on Twitter about NFT (which was very hot in March), which led to some research on the state of fashion, which led to discussions about digital art piracy, which made me question the legitimacy of my self-constructed online identity.
Do I really exist on the Internet?
NFT and theft of works of art
Okay, first of all, a recap on NFTs (non-fungible tokens): these are a bit of tech based on the magic of blockchain and the mania of speculative financial markets.
It does not matter how NFTs work, but the upshot is that NFTs allow users to essentially create unique, tradable “certificates of ownership” for digital media.
So @DaRealLeonardoDaVinci could post MonaLisa.jpg on Twitter, then generate an NFT “certificate of ownership” for that tweet, then sell that NFT for millions.
Sounds cool, but the problem for artists is that anyone can claim ownership of any tweet.
In an alternate scenario, old Leo could post MonaLisa.jpg on Twitter, but then, bam,
@PhantomThiefLupine pops up out of nowhere and creates an NFT for this tweet, claiming “ownership” and then selling it.
This isn’t even the sexy art theft kind of thing, where if you wanted to steal the true original Da Vinci artwork you would need to assemble a team to break into the Louvre and have such a daring plan. that he will leave the police surprised by discovering the real painting replaced by a boy with a wig.
Ownership in the digital age
But what does ownership mean even then? At the height of the craze, unscrupulous users are said to be using Twitter bots like
@tokenizedtweets to generate NFTs to ‘claim’ other people’s artwork. The artists were rightly angry, but did they really need to do something?
Having an NFT “certificate of ownership” is not the same as having the copyright in something.
Copyright is based on the laws of the real world; NFTs are currently “fantasies”.
I mean, I can’t ‘steal’ your car by taking a picture of it and saying, “Nyahaha, this picture is my proof of ownership, so give me your keys!”
Still, some artists responded by simply deleting their tweets, which hilariously turned thieves’ NFTs into garbage as they now pointed to broken URLs. Thus, these precious “property certificates” could effectively disappear at the whim of others!
Better yet, @tokenizedtweets and similar bots have now been suspended by Twitter for breaking platform rules. So much for your permanence online.
Frankly, the existence of an NFT relies on so many factors beyond its owner’s control that the idea of art thieves of being able to appropriate anything in the digital landscape is laughable.
But then I realized … doesn’t that also describe my idea of ”owning” anything on the Internet?
I have a Twitter account and have always considered it “my” Twitter account.
Later today, I’ll be posting my drawing of Mona Lisa, except I’ll do it in anime style, so Mona will have a huge pair of … uh, eyes. I must “own” this tweet too, right?
Well that’s what I thought, until this NFT nonsense. I may think I “own” my Twitter account, but honestly, this account only exists with the consent of the Twitter platform.
If anyone reports that my AnimeMonaLisa.jpg has eyeballs that violate Twitter’s content rules, then bam I’m suspended. My online Twitter identity can easily disappear at the whim of others.
This same existential uncertainty can apply to any online service I rely on, from Gmail to WhatsApp, and this revelation made me realize how much I took digital amenities for granted.
If I have a real physical home, it will be very difficult to move away from my home. Conversely, if I have a website, it is enough that my web hosting service is down and suddenly I no longer have a homepage.
Ouch, too bad for my permanence online!
So here’s my question: can I really “own” anything in the digital landscape?
Much of my online existence relies on so many factors beyond my control. So am I … a digital bum, with no real place to call my “home” on the Internet?
I am, am I not?
I don’t think I have an appropriate conclusion or point that I’m trying to make, as I’m essentially going through an existential crisis about my digital identity and my online existence.
I guess one way to secure some kind of a permanent online presence is to set up my own web hosting service with physical servers, permanent IP address etc … but it will cost millions. Wait, I have an idea …
Listen, meet me in front of the Louvre at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow and bring in a boy with an enigmatic smile. I’ll bring the wig.