"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it"
That was said by the novelist Evelyn Beatrice Hall in her biography about the French philosopher Voltaire.
I remember hearing a paraphrase of that quote in my twenties, and I thought to myself; that is a good way to live your life. Because it is often more important to defend rights, than any particular individual point of view. This is because those rights often take a long time to establish, yet can be eroded in the blink of an eye.
In my last two articles concerning the takeover of Steemit by Justin Sun, I have tried to take an objective look at what has gone on, whilst taking a look at the potential legal implications connected with the takeover. In this one I want to explore with you, whether the initial actions by the Steem witnesses was justified or not.
A (very) Brief History of Steem-Tron
19 days ago, @justinsunsteemit CEO and founder of the Tron network, announced that Tron had acquired Steemit.
Within his initial announcement on various platforms, Sun mentioned that he would like to migrate Steem over to the Tron network.
This prompted a huge backlash from the community who were afraid that they were about to be co-opted into an inferior chain.
Justin then sent out a bunch of damage control tweets saying that Steem would not be migrated unless the community wanted it, effectively climbing down from his earlier statement.
Fast forward to a few days ago, and the witnesses placed a restriction on the Steemit Incorporated Steem wallet, blocking Justin's access to it, which they called softfork 22.2.
Justin then reacted to this by somehow getting the crypto exchanges Binance and Poloniex to steal Steem funds so as to power up new witness accounts so that they could undo the original actions by the Steem witnesses.
Okay, you're all caught up now, let's move onto the moral implications of what happened.
Justin's Minority Report
The 2002 film Minority Report, taken from the Philip K. Dick novel of the same name, and starring Tom Cruise, was about a futuristic society whereby crimes are caught and punished before they are committed.
In order to allow this to happen, the police department use information by "precogs" - the name given to officers with psychic abilities - to find out about crimes that are going to happen in the future, they then go and find these future criminals and arrest them in the present.
The film explores the moral question of whether a police force should be able to act without any strong evidence simply because they believe a crime is about to take place.
When the Steemit witnesses decided to block Justin Sun from getting access to the Steem ninja-mine, they acted because they believed that Justin was going to take all of that Steem and use it for his own gains, which they say, would have corrupted the Steem blockchain and put everything that has been built up over the last four years in danger. In other words, they issued a Minority Report to Sun.
Their argument is that @ned, the ex-owner of Steemit Inc. had made promises that the Steem sitting in the company account, currently around 65 million Steem, down from an initial amount of about 200 million, was not to be used for anything other than aggrandising the community.
There were even some witnesses who argued that the entire sum should be burned so that nobody could get their hands on it.
The problem is, as far as I know, there were no documents signed to this effect, therefore the witnesses were taking Ned at his word.
From Justin's point of view, he has bought a company which has 65 million Steem as part of its assets. Then, some people who don't actually work for the company, stop him getting a hold of the assets to which he legally obtained. Which is why he has referred to the witnesses as hackers.
So was the preemptive strike correct?
The Argument For Yes
A supporter of the actions taken by the witnesses might point to the fact that Justin had alluded to the fact that he was willing to move the Steem coin over to Tron, thus destroying the Steem blockchain.
Even though Justin seemingly climbed down in a later tweet, he still did not contact the witnesses to reassure them that the ninja-mined Steem was safe.
Another argument is that the ninja-mined stake was never meant to be used for personal gains, rather it was a delegated stake that was meant to act as an assurance to all token holders that it would never be sold.
You could also argue that Ned should not have sold Steemit without making Justin aware that there was a prerequisite attached to the ninja-stake of 65 million Steem.
Lastly, you might also say that Ned was being a good custodian of those funds, and Justin's sudden inclusion into the mix was confusing, and because he did nothing to rectify that confusion, they were forced to take action before any real harm was done.
In short, without these actions, you might say, that Steem and with it steemit.com, would die.
The Argument for No
Whilst you may not agree with Justin's plans for Steemit (which will probably never come to light now), does not mean you have to agree with the way he has been treated.
Ultimately the ninja-mined Steem has been there since the beginning of Steemit's life.
The vast majority of it has already been used in various ways. Some was given to initial miners, some of whom are current witnesses, and as far as I'm aware, none of them have offered to give back their ninja-mined Steem.
Some of it has been used to bail Steemit out of a financial hole they found themselves in a while back.
Some of it has been sold and the proceeds of which, have gone straight into Chairman Ned's personal bank account.
There is no legal document anywhere that says the owner of Steemit is not allowed access to these funds.
Possession, as they say, is nine tenths of the law. If you own something, it is yours, and thus you can do with it as you please.
These are all very strong arguments, and adding to those the witnesses could have frozen these funds when Ned was in charge, but they didn't.
Perhaps not all, but definitely some of the witnesses are motivated by the power they had under Ned. There was an unwritten rule between the ex-chairman and the witnesses, and that agreement was;
If you don't mess with anything I want to do, you will remain a top witness. Cross me, and I will use the @freedom vote to get you out of the club.
The witnesses were very happy with this situation, some of them even enjoyed the fruits of a ninja-mined stake. However as soon as the shouts of the King is dead! Long live the King! were ringing out in the streets, they quickly moved to protect their power, as now there were no guarantees that they would remain in the top witness club with a new owner who has enough Steem to create his own witnesses and get them out.
I do believe that their fears over the "community" being damaged were real, however I think they are less altruistic than they are letting on. Because of the facts I've laid out above, it would seem their reasons are a lot more selfish than appeared at first glance.
Regardless of what Justin had planned for Steemit, the witnesses were wrong to freeze the stake.
I believe if you support this, then you are also supporting future preemptive strikes.
What if the witnesses deem that I might be about to do something against their interests?
What if you are one day considered a potential bad actor because of something you may or may not do in the future? Will you support a minority report then?
Like I said at the top, I don't necessarily support Justin, initially I thought his purchase of Steemit would be a good thing for the community, however he has lost the moral high ground by stealing people's funds on the exchanges, and I don't see how he can continue as owner of Steemit.
However this does not detract from the initial action against him being totally and utterly wrong.
He has bought something legally, and now he has the right to do with it what he sees fit. I may not like what he does, but I will vociferously defend his right to do it.
WHAT ABOUT YOU? DO YOU BELIEVE THAT THE ENDS JUSTIFY THE MEANS? ARE THE WITNESSES RIGHT TO BLOCK ACCESS TO STEEMIT'S NINJA-STAKE, OR HAVE THEY COMPLETELY OVERSTEPPED THE MARK ON THIS ONE?
AS EVER, LET ME KNOW BELOW!