There are a few things here. Aether as a browser extension is only viable when we have an Aether server running somewhere since Aether is not an app that by itself can run in a browser. This topic has been discussed many times before, so feel free to search on the app or here. I wish it was such, but unfortunately, it is not.
The second thing is about censorship. It’s important to understand that Aether is still subject to US laws and US law’s definition of free speech. We cannot allow any illegal content, and if it comes to that, there will be ‘censorship’ in the way that we will have to find ways to block such content to remain legal. In this context, my opinion does not matter, no one’s opinion matters, this is the law, and it will happen.
While I’m sympathetic to free speech, and I do, under very specific and rare circumstances, might agree that free speech is curtailed in the Western world (east is a whole another matter), it remains the case that the idea of free speech is often used to demand a free conduit for ideas from the society that the same society finds reprehensible. It is your right to go out on the streets and shout at people all you want. On the other hand, you have no right to ask a newspaper to give you an opinion column.
Another unfortunate result of this dynamic is that any platform that ends up arguing that it is a place for free speech ends up as a cesspool very quickly because it quickly brings all the people who have been booted from all other platforms for being too awful into the same place, which makes all the more mainstream people leave the platform, and thus begins the spiralling descent into the mountains of madness.
As a result, the design of Aether is such that it attempts to reflect this duality of our environment where we want to both allow for as much free speech as possible, ideally up to the limit of the US law (which is extremely wide in its protections for free speech, more than any other country), but we also need to maintain a majority of the mainstream people, and offer them something genuinely interesting, where one’s opinion can be challenged, and where they can learn something, but still very much within the boundaries of civil society.
The reasons for us to maintain this duality is twofold. One of them relates to the mainstream users, another relates to the ‘edge’ users.
The first reason relates to the mainstream users. Without these, a platform, thus its users, lose all legitimacy, and for very good reasons. Nobody wants to be in a place that is full of Nazis — I know this because I myself am a mainstream user of Aether, and I don’t want to see such things myself. There are simply way too many more useful things in my life that I can do instead of trying to scroll through what would essentially be an awful place to be.
On the other hand… if this was the be-all and end-all of this topic, then, well, this is also called the tyranny of the majority. It’s important to realise that our societies are a direct result of thousands of years of social evolution, and if we ended up in a society where free speech is protected in law, there must be very good reasons to do so. The argument above for mainstream users do not address the need for free speech that those societies saw, and that should give us a pause. If all we needed to see was the posts that were agreeable to us, then there is no need for free speech at all. But that’s not how our society works — it explicitly tries to create a ‘marketplace of ideas’, rather than a monoculture. So it is our job to figure out why this is the case and apply our learnings to Aether so that we can build something better than corporate-owned fiefdoms composed of bubble-wrapped saccharine ideas that we have today. The marketplace of ideas needs to be a battlefield, a fair battlefield, not a Garden of Eden, but we also cannot allow weapons of mass destruction into that battlefield, because they not only destroy the combatants, but also the viewers, since no one wants to be associated with, or even know of, a place where most opinion within is distasteful.
Which brings us to the second point: the one that relates to the edge users. Without these, a platform is basically an echo chamber, with no one challenging the mainstream point of view. To create a stronger society, both in our daily lives and also within Aether, this simply cannot be: a society without dissenters is a body whose immune system has atrophied, one that is ready to be devoured by the next challenger to the throne. To be fair, most edge ideas are terrible. That is the nature of the edge. However once in a while somebody on the edge discovers something truly wonderful, and boom, whichever society that is capable of giving space to that idea, a sufficiently pluralistic society, and that benefits enormously the whatever society that it came from, and then humanity as a whole. Ideas like, hey, we should give a shot at making swords out of iron instead of bronze (resulting in the Golden Age of Ancient Greece), or, I have this explody thing from China for fireworks and I decided to make it explode but in a tube (resulting in the Ottoman Empire and European Renaissance), or everyone we give a crown to seem to go mad after 15 years, we should cap this at 10 years and then elect the next one (resulting in the French Revolution), or, sous les paves, la plage (resulting in women joining the workforce en masse, thus making us all richer, and more productive), and so on. I want to emphasise how hilariously dumb these ideas sound at first, but these very ideas are now foundations of every non-awful country that exists today. There aren’t infinite humans around, we cannot afford to exclude the very few brilliant thinkers within the edge even if most of the edge is a cesspool, because this has always been the case. For all we know, somebody might post on Scihub a working paper for supersymmetry, and with it a plan for an implementable Alcubierre drive just next month — and by the next decade we’d be settling off-world colonies in Alpha Centauri.
But we cannot make it so that the edge takes over entirely either. The edge also needs a mainstream majority to be there, because for an edge idea to find purchase in the mainstream, the mainstream needs to be there in the first place. That means, for us to be able to thread this dichotomy in the best way possible, Aether needs to be friendly to the mainstream — if not for anything, for keeping the mainstream there so that whatever diamonds that rise out of the cesspool of the edge can find a mainstream audience. So even if you are a complete edgelord disgusted by all the civility and sanity of the modern world your interests align with still having a mainstream audience in Aether, simply because it’s no fun trolling the trolls because they know all your tricks.
So the compromise I’ve found off this turned out to be very similar to how the US constitution works in regards to free speech. The speech itself is protected to the max (unless incites violence), but the conduits are not, and those conduits have to be won as spoils in the eternal battlefield that is the marketplace of ideas. Aether is the same way. To protect the majority mainstream audience we have an SFWlist, which is where the most people live within, but we also have an edge outside is, which is not normally communicated directly to the users who live in the SFW listed communities. However, the edge is there, something that is unique to Aether, which is not true in the corporate fiefdoms we have today. This means the mainstream users can, in fact, visit the edge, and if the edge people can make a good argument, well, they’ve just won a supporter and increased their influence. The mainstream wins because they get exposed to edge ideas in a way that is not possible elsewhere, but they also do it on their terms, at an amount and speed they control — if they want to see none of it, they can see none of it. The edge wins, because they get to spread their ideas, in a way that is absolutely not possible in any other place — but they have to do it on civil terms, by convincing people, not by verbal violence and force-occupying mainstream communities. If they don’t do it this way, Aether gives a lot of power to the individual user, mainstream or edge, to block, prevent access, and most importantly prevent being a conduit, so that the mainstream users can very effectively defend themselves.
In essence, as a result of this thought process, we do in fact have censorship in Aether. I’m straight up using the term ‘censorship’ instead of ‘controlling access’ because I don’t feel the need to get into that argument, but ‘blocking access’ is what it means, so please understand it that way. So Aether has several kinds of censorship. Here’s the rundown:
If you are posting anything that is illegal, SFWlisted or not, we have to block this. That should be pretty obvious. Aether is subject to US jurisdiction. This censorship would come from Aether itself.
We have the SFWlist. This list is permeable and can be disabled by the user. It’s not a jail, because the list is not compulsory, every user can choose to disable it. It comes enabled by default because we want a majority mainstream audience. However, even without disabling the list, there are ways within the app that the users can choose to see or interact with non-SFWlisted communities. For example, if you search for anything, the search will give you the option to choose whether you want the search results to include non-SFWlisted content. Or if you subscribe to a non-SFWlisted community, for you, that becomes SFWlisted, etc. The list is provided by Aether, but the decision on applying the list or not, either in wholesale or in part rests entirely with the user. So if you’re an edge user, you cannot force your way into a position of broadcasting your message through other people’s computers for free, and you’d perhaps call this a censorship. On the other hand, what you call censorship, I would call ‘access control’ dictated by the user, which is completely fine.
This SFWlist will eventually become one of the many lists that we have, some of which are whitelists and others whitelists. I do realise that at this point this is a point of subjective control, but the intent is eventually that I have no personal control over the SFWlist once the community grows to a certain size, and other people create competing SFWlists which can also be subscribed or unsubscribed at will, just like the SFWlist. Once this happens I will stop updating the SFWlist and let those lists take over. Personally, I consider managing the SFWlist one of my biggest chores, so I would rather get to this point sooner rather than later — I have no interest in or have time for being the arbiter of what people consider SFW or not.
The individual communities have moderators which are elected. This means these mods can choose to censor your posts if you are not following the rules. Anybody who accepts those people as mods (most people accept the default mod list of any community) will not see your posts. Anybody who doesn’t will. Mods can be elected and the elections are always ongoing, so in the worst possible interpretation this could be called censorship, but it is in fact simply the results of an election. That said, if you consider you are the only person to choose who gets to see who sees your messages and you’re the supreme ruler regardless of what people vote for, then you could call it censorship. In reality, though, it’s just the result of an election, a consequence of the concept of the consent of the governed.
In short, Aether has censorship — but it largely comes not from the app itself, but from its users in the form of the users choosing what they want to see, and what they want to broadcast. Aether without censorship does not make much sense, because what you call censorship is what Aether calls consent, and without the consent of the users, you have no conduit. Without a conduit, you have no network, thus Aether becomes pointless. Only by working with other people and making them accept your content you can use Aether, because otherwise they will simply not accept your messages to their computers, much less broadcast it to others.