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Coronavirus Outbreak And its Implications for Protocol-based Governance

By Simon Seojoon Kim
Coronavirus Outbreak And its Implications for Protocol-based Governance 101
Source: iStock/Powerofflowers
Coronavirus Outbreak And its Implications for Protocol-based Governance 102
Source: Hashed

Simon Seojoon Kim is the CEO and Managing Partner at South Korea-based blockchain accelerator Hashed.
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In the wake of the global coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the failure of many governments and civil communities in containing disease clearly demonstrated structural issues of how our society is built. China, the epicenter of COVID-19, tapped its old propaganda playbook by censoring the information from getting out. However, Beijing’s attempts only revealed the limits of the centralized political system; the information control exacerbated the situation. Along with its laggard response, the Chinese authorities added more confusion with inaccurate infected cases and death tolls. Now, the country is facing criticisms from the international society for its coercive measures and suppression of freedom of speech — for instance, closing down social media accounts or putting curfews in the major cities. A few brave Chinese citizens spoke up against the Xi Jinping administration despite the censorship, and these comments caused a huge shake-up of Xi’s leadership. The Chinese case demonstrates that even when the government has tight control over the internet and finance, it cannot stop the public anxiety stemming from the survival instinct.

An unidentified threat naturally gives birth to fear, conflict, and phobia. This is especially evident in Korean society. Although many foreign media outlets praise the South Korean COVID-19 diagnostic capability and transparent information sharing as exemplary, the pain within the Korean society is growing at an uncontrollable pace. The Korean Medical Association (KMA) openly condemned the government for ignoring its recommendation of an entry ban against the Chinese population, and many Korean citizens expressed their dissatisfaction with the government measures through social media. In the meantime, the pro-government pundits cast doubt over the efficacy of entry ban and claim movement restriction will only incur a significant economic blow to many corporates and small business owners. What used to be sheer debates over the policies and quarantine measures are now turning into bitter social and political feuds, especially as South Korea expects to hold the general election this April. Globally spread ethnophobia and social conflict stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic will likely linger even after the end of the crisis.

The need for social unity is indeed at its all-time high, yet we are witnessing the cacophony of hatred and division devouring the whole society. I believe the absence of protocol-based governance that allows social consensus lies at the core of this phenomenon. When people do not or cannot verify claims anymore, the misunderstanding leads to the difference in opinions. This is evident in the COVID-19 crisis too. The degree of disclosing information regarding COVID-19 actually differs from every nation and every government agency. Moreover, the health authorities have failed to communicate with the public regarding what considerations were being taken into account in the preventive measures and pandemic guidelines. This stems from failing to share logic and data behind the decisions government authorities are making. In the meantime, fake news, misleading recommendations, and unverified information have engulfed the social media and messengers exacerbating public anxiety. Misinformation-laden internet protocol again demonstrates why web 2.0 cannot be fully trusted and how the information flow can be flawed.

I argue that blockchain protocol governance could potentially resolve the aforementioned issues. For instance, if public healthcare data could be shared in real-time between experts and the public with 100% transparency, the data-powered platform will allow all the relevant entities to share their insights more effectively. And, this platform will allow experts who raised their voices in the media to partake in preventive measure research or policy-making process. The more transparent the process is, the more confidence the public will give to the nation and society.

Furthermore, this platform will empower mobile/web-based services that have been playing vital roles in distributing COVID-19 information to the public. Indeed, they will be able to provide more scalable and stable services. President Moon, Jae-in himself has mentioned and applauded an app called “Corona Map” that effectively demonstrated where the COVID-19 patients visited. However, as the number of COVID-19 patients rocketed to hundreds, this app reached an impasse for a small team of devs that could not effectively show every location of hundreds of COVID-19 cases. And, I find the blockchain developer ecosystem as a good reference for building such services in times like this. We need a permissionless network that allows the integration of multiple applications without worrying about the absence of trust or the lack of creativity. If Korea starts building a healthcare platform based on blockchain that allows government authorities, medical experts, and everyday citizens to aggregate and verify data together, it will indeed open up a new chapter of our very own society.

Coronavirus Outbreak And its Implications for Protocol-based Governance 103
Korean app that tracks whereabouts of COVID-19 patients and their conditions

Humankind has failed to effectively counter global threats such as global warming and pollution, not to mention global pandemics. I believe blockchain is a quintessential tool that facilitates any community to reach consensus. Beyond what many have pursued so far in the cryptosphere — digital asset issuance and distribution, perhaps now is an apt time to start building a protocol that all members of society can collaborate and agree based on the technology and infrastructure of trust that has infinite potential.

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