Blockchain Social Media – Towards User-Controlled Data
Today, virtually everyone is active on social media. According to Statista, in 2017, 81% of the US population had a social media account, while the monthly global user base is expected to reach 3.02 billion by 2021.
As data production from popular social media platforms skyrocketed, so did the instances of data breaches, including the case involving Cambridge Analytica and Facebook. Against this backdrop, a new form of social networks, namely Blockchain Social Media, are emerging, and rapidly expanding to provide better security.
Since most of the traditional social media platforms are centralized, the emerging decentralized social media platforms promise a different way of data production and control. Most importantly, it enables users to have greater control over their data.
In this insight blog, we would discuss the various aspects of Blockchain social networks, including:
- What is Blockchain Social Media?
- Why Decentralized Social Networks?
- The Top Blockchain Social Networks (2019)
- Challenges to Blockchain Implementation in Social Media
What is Blockchain Social Media?
These are decentralized platforms, built on top of the blockchain technology that allows the development of applications and smart contracts.
Leveraging the underlying Blockchain and DLT platforms, these decentralized social media platforms enable end-to-end encryptions for every interaction. Moreover, typical to the Blockchain ecosystems, they usually have features like native currency, used for in-platform transactions, rewarding users, and crowdfunding.
With this basic understanding of Blockchain social networks, let us now underline the utility or benefits of implementing it.
Why Decentralized Social Networks?
As we increasingly become aware of the flip-side of the boom in social media usage, we cannot help but focus on two pertinent concerns. One, the privacy and security of personal data. Two, the consolidation of power in the hands of a few controlling the centralized systems.
Usually, anything related to Blockchains or DLTs is often aimed at mitigating the numerous downsides of centralized systems. The case of social media is also somewhat similar.
So, what significant benefits accrue from the interlinking of Blockchain and Social Media? Let’s see.
A Check on User Commodification
Presently, data is one of the most profitable assets. Those in control of data have the power to control the mind, behavior, and other aspects of the data producer. Moreover, centralized social media platforms are goldmines of personal data.
It is an open secret that the likes of Facebook and Instagram, among others, leverage the user’s data to enable targeted advertisement for their clients. Here, remind yourself of the times that you browsed something on Amazon, and the product’s ad kept popping up on Facebook, Instagram, and virtually everywhere.
Although the technique is applaudable from a marketing perspective, it has grave implications for the user at the receiving end. That is, the user is being commodified, turned into a product and, in essence, stripped of the privacy.
Owing to their peer-to-peer network, end-to-end encryption, and the absence of ‘third-parties,’ distributed social media platforms rule out such threats of user commodification. Also, by extension, it imparts the users greater control over their data.
Primarily, this is ensured by the use of Private and Public keys. Using the private key, the user can initiate a transaction, details of which is stored in a data block on the blockchain. This block is added to the chain only after being verified by the majority consensus of other members on the network. Consequently, the data is accessible only to the intended recipient.
The information stored in these blocks is in the form of cryptographic ‘hash.’ These are one-way algorithms, such that a hash can’t be decrypted to get the original information (theoretically).
Each hash is unique and every unique information produces a different hash. Even a small change in information result in a different hash. Hence, the information stored on Blockchain is immutable, resulting in unalterable records.
Privacy and Freedom of Expression
Every interaction on centralized social media, including private messages, is accessible to those in charge of moderating these platforms. Among other things, this poses a severe threat to the users’ privacy.
Moreover, content posted on social media is being used increasingly for political gains, as well as to curb dissent. Understandably, this is a major deterrent to the democratic ideals of freedom of speech and expression.
With its decentralized consensus mechanisms, Blockchain social media platforms ensure greater privacy, and also help in realizing the users’ right to express freely.
However, such an absolute lack of regulations might indeed pose newer threats. If these decentralized platforms are to match the popularity of the present social media giants, such issues need to be addressed over time.
Scope for Crowdfunding
Apart from non-monetary benefits, social media blockchain also offers materialistic rewards.
Most decentralized social networks reward users (nodes) for posting on their network. Akin to most blockchain ecosystems, such rewards come in the form of the network’s native cryptocurrency.
Moreover, these social media platforms enable users to conduct effective crowdfunding campaigns through processes similar to token sales. Furthermore, they also facilitate user-to-user financial transactions using the native cryptocurrency.
The Top Blockchain Social Networks (2019)
Now, having discussed the need for decentralized social media platforms as opposed to the centralized platforms, let us now turn our attention to some of the most popular instances of the former.
Pioneers in this field, and built on top of the Steem blockchain, Steemit is one of the most popular blockchain social networks of all time. In terms of functionality, the platform has elements similar to Facebook and Reddit.
Based on the engagement, and ‘upvotes’ on content, the steem system automatically distributes rewards to the creator in Smart Media Tokens (SMT).
According to Steem Stats, users on this platform have earned up to $22 million for their content. Moreover, the Steemit whitepaper promised a staggering 6 million transactions per second, higher than the present TPS of Bitcoin and Ethereum.
Steemit is best suited for writers and content creators, who want to monetize their content.
With millions of users, Diaspora* is another popular blockchain social media platform. It is an “online social world where you are in control,” and it allows users to join, host, and interact in pods of their choice.
Moreover, users in the Diaspora* ‘community,’ as they call it, have the option to follow hashtags, just like on the traditional social media platforms.
Concerning its functionality and structure, Diaspora* is based on three pillars.
- Decentralization – The ‘pods’ of the network are the distributed servers that are independently owned and run. It ensures that the network is truly decentralized, and none of the data is stored on a central server.
- Freedom – For participating in the Diaspora community, users do not need to reveal their true identity. Disclosing personal information such as contact number is also a choice of the user. Apart from being free-to-use, the software allows absolute freedom to its users to interact as they choose.
- Privacy – ‘Aspect,’ a special feature of Diaspora, enables users to fully control their data and share it upon their sole discretion. Moreover, while signing up for the community, users don’t sign off their data rights, either to Diaspora or to any other third-party.
This zero-censorship network is one of those few revolutionary digital platforms where the user owns absolutely all of their data.
Moreover, the platform is fully open-source, offering users with heightened flexibility and enabling them to leverage the platform entirely in sync with their specific needs. Also, in general, the platform provides all of the now-popular features of applications such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and more.
Being a proponent of freedom of speech and expression, the platform enjoys a rapidly growing popularity. Consequently, its user base has already accumulated over 2 million.
It is a one-of-its-kind Blockchain social media platform, in the sense that it offers a full scape social network functionality, coupled with a revenue system.
A multi-layered application, All.me is based on four major components:
- meNetwork – It is the All.me’s core social media platform, which allows users to interact over a distributed network. In terms of content, this social media is quite like Instagram or Pinterest, where users usually post images.
- meMarket – It is a distributed marketplace that allows users to sell products on their profile or buy items from their newsfeed, in exchange for the ME token.
- mePay – An integral part of the All.me network is the in-built payment protocol, which allows users to transfer funds for commerce, as well as, for other purposes.
- meToken – It is the network’s native cryptocurrency, which the users have to use for transactions on the platform.
Hosted on Coinbase, this use case of Blockchain in Social Media allows users to earn bitcoin by completing microtasks.
Upon creating a profile, users can join ‘lists’ based on their skill set, and can also receive paid messages. Primarily, the Earn network utilizes a paid email system that is meant to increase the users’ chances of earning.
In essence, this platform may be compared to LinkedIn.
Challenges to Blockchain Implementation in Social Media
Decentralized social networks have immense potential, yet most are far from matching the popularity of traditional platforms such as Facebook.
There are substantial reasons for the same. Some of the pertinent obstacles to the growth of these platforms are similar to those of the underlying technology itself, such as scalability that the Blockchain community is yet to overcome. However, others are specific to the nature of these platforms.
Misuse of Freedom
The risks of absolute freedom, as offered by these non-censored platforms, are as pertinent as its benefits. Allowing users to post anything and everything they want to, also means that they can post content which is potentially harmful or degrading for others.
Moreover, the anonymity and the reliance upon user votes opens the doors for miscreants planning to hijack a platform. In this, a user can post illegal or hateful content, and gather several users to support the same. Such content can neither be deleted nor monitored, given the blockchain’s essential immutability.
This is not merely a possibility, but a reality. For instance, the Gab network has often been associated with the propagation of racism and hate speech on its platform.
In such situations, the community’s self-regulation may never be enough. Instead, there is indeed a need for regulations in this field. In the absence of rules, these platforms often run the risk of supporting notoriety, akin to the infamous Darknet platforms.
Many Blockchain Social Media platforms don’t meet their promise of decentralization.
Primarily, this is because achieving absolute decentralization is not easy. Not at least with the present technological know-how.
On the one hand, traditional social media’s popularity is increasing exponentially due to the heightened marketing and entertainment experience it offers to its users. However, on the other side, there are rising concerns over the data and privacy breaches to which these platforms are often associated.
Blockchain social media, with their decentralized and distributed networks, offer a plausible solution to such issues. Among other things, they enable users to assert greater control over their data.
Moreover, in the absence of any centralized authority, users on these networks benefit from greater privacy. In turn, this upholds the freedom of speech and expression, relieving users of the torments of being prosecuted for their thoughts on social media. Most decentralized social media platforms also enable their users to earn cryptocurrencies upon posting and interacting.
However, despite the many benefits, such uncensored platforms are rife with opportunities for criminal activities, which undermine the very purpose of ensuring freedom. That said, regulations may be necessary, to ensure that the ideals of decentralized Blockchain social media are actualized to provide benefits, and not to harm.
In all, the prospects of this domain are manifold and, with proper handling, these may transform the way we interact on the internet.
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