What is Decentralized Social Media?

In this post ”What is Decentralized Social Media?”, we will look at the benefits and drawbacks of decentralized social networks, the examples of decentralized social network, decentralized control, AI transparency and many more about decentralized social networks.

Decentralized social media is a blockchain-based social media network.

About Decentralized Social Media

Decentralized social media, often known as blockchain-based social media, refers to social media systems that use distributed ledger technology (DLTs) such as blockchain or DAG to power them. As a result, unlike centralized networks like Facebook, Twitter, and others, activity on these platforms are irreversibly recorded on a decentralized system that no central authority can manage or oversee.

Because these networks tend to prioritize income creation, traditional social platforms not only manage users’ posts, but also what they see. As a result, they present users with attention-getting advertising content, which entertains them. Rather than informs them.

Users on decentralized social media networks, on the other hand, have the freedom to interact as they choose without fear of censorship. Because the developers often simply give guiding rules, leaving the rest to a distributed community of users.

One of the contentious issues with centralized social networks is the unauthorized sale of user data. Decentralized social media platforms prevent this. Furthermore, blockchain technology uses encryption to increase user privacy and data security.

Decentralized social media, despite its promises, have several flaws. Because there are no administrators, users may publish erroneous or offensive information with no ability to remove it. Furthermore, a 51 percent attack, in which a bad actor may hypothetically control over 50% of a network’s power, allowing them to change data as they want, might compromise the system’s integrity.

Examples of Decentralized Social Network

Uptrennd, Subsocial, and Steem are all based on Polkadot and Kusama’s Substrate platform. Despite their enormous potential, blockchain-based social networks still have a long way to go before becoming mainstream and competing with centralized social networks.

Decentralized Social Networks: What You Should Know

The popularity of social media has altered how we interact. But many people believe that these changes aren’t always for the better. In the case of the COVID-19 outbreak, for example. A lack of content filtering across social platforms has allowed misinformation to spread. That misconception, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), can influence COVID-19 interactions among family, friends, and others.

Many users were frustrated with how major social media platforms dealt with concerns like as misinformation, censorship, privacy, political neutrality, user control, and criminal activity even before COVID-19. These worries have generated a new trend: federated social networks. Sometimes known as decentralized social networks.

More Details on Decentralized Social Media Network

Instead of a centralized server owned by a company, decentralized social networks run on servers that are run independently. One example of a decentralized social network is Mastodon. It’s built on open-source software and works similarly to Twitter. Steem, which is based on a social blockchain, is another example. Data entries can be kept in servers all around the world thanks to blockchain technology. It promotes transparency by allowing anybody on a network to access data in near real time.

Users have more control and autonomy in decentralized social networks. An individual can create their own social network and decide how it will function and what users will be able to say. Instead of having a business monitor material, the founder of a federated social network can set the site’s terms of acceptable behavior.

The Fediverse

The fediverse, a word for a collection of networked servers used for social networking. And other operations such as blogging and web publishing, is made up of decentralized social networks. A federated network that is hosted independently can communicate with other networks in the fediverse.

One of the most significant distinctions between decentralized social networks and established social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter is this. Twitter, for example, only allows users to send and receive messages to other Twitter users (there is no cross-platform alignment, so Twitter users can’t send messages to Facebook accounts). Federated networks, on the other hand, allow users to interact with one another across multiple platforms.

A good illustration of how federated social networks work is email. Take Google and Yahoo, for example. For its users, each organization establishes email restrictions. Yahoo users are not subject to any restrictions imposed by Google. Users of Google, on the other hand, can send and receive emails from Yahoo users and likewise. Federated networks function in a similar way.

The Benefits and Drawbacks of Decentralized Social Networks

Connectivity, community building, and knowledge sharing are all facilitated by social media.
People can use social media to advertise their businesses, push social and political change. Raise awareness about vital topics, and generate donations for people in need.
Cyberbullying, political misinformation, and even criminal conduct are examples of the dark side of social media. Due to the lack of moderation in decentralized social networks, both positive and negative effects become more extreme.

User Control, Free Speech, and Censorship Resistance

Major social media networks are controlled by corporate entities. And the rules of involvement are defined by a small group of persons within these corporations. Users have expressed concerns about free speech and censorship as a result of this. Last year, Facebook imposed high-profile bans on people on both sides of the political aisle, from Louis Farrakhan to Alex Jones. While banning violent, hateful, and harmful messaging helps safeguard social media users from malicious online activities, some argue that the restrictions violate free speech principles.

Users have more power over a decentralized social network. Federated networks, unlike centralized social networking systems, promote independence without a central authority. Censorship resistance, personal data ownership, and increased control over user-generated material are all advantages. Users, in other words, refuse to be censored and insist on having last say over their content. This means that no one else, including a corporation or a website administrator, can change content submitted by users. No one has the authority to remove user-generated content.

Personal Data, Privacy, and Security

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was established in Europe in response to user concerns regarding personal data control. Users are referred to as “data controllers” in the regulation. “Data processors” are the term for social media corporations.

Users own their own data, according to the GDPR definition of data controller. Companies, at least those situated in Europe, are required by law to provide users more control over their personal data. Companies are fined if they do not adhere to GDPR laws.

Another solution to data privacy and security has been provided by decentralized social networks. Users can create accounts on federated social networks without needing to link them to real-world identities such as email addresses or phone numbers. Furthermore, rather than relying on a single company to protect user data, these networks frequently use public-key cryptography for account security.

While this has certain benefits in terms of data security. It also has some drawbacks. For example, due to a lack of money, bootstrapped federated social networks may shut down. Leading users to lose their data and connections. Because federated networks do not store archives of personal data on servers. Users have no easy means to reconnect with others on the network in this case. In terms of security, these platforms do not always encrypt data. Hence administrators may be able to see private messages.

Neutrality in the Economy

For many people who use decentralized social networks, economic neutrality is a must-have ideal. They want to be free of intrusive advertising and the risk it brings to their privacy. To stay afloat, federated networks are looking for new ways to make money. To keep operations operating, they frequently employ a kind of digital currency such as Bitcoin. Steem, for example, rewards users for creating or curating interesting content, incentivizing content creators to put quality first. Steem is funded by investors who believe the platform will appreciate in value over time and eventually become lucrative.

Decentralized social media platforms aren’t new; they’re just not very popular right now.

We are all too aware of the influence of digital behemoths on politics, social issues, and even our mental health. We saw how Facebook sold our data to Cambridge Analytica to sway voters. Also how it allowed Myanmar’s army to spew misinformation and hatred on its platform. Resulting in the killing of Rohingya Muslims, and how it did nothing to fact-check fake news distributed by numerous political parties around the world.

We also watched how Twitter’s suspension of Trump’s account sparked a debate about “free speech” on the network. While some may argue that it was warranted in light of rising anti-government sentiment. It nevertheless raises fundamental ethical problems regarding social media’s power. Such as whether moderation and take-down decisions should be left to a few influential individuals in Silicon Valley.

How much does privacy cost? Why don’t we have a voice in how our information is used?

These are significant concerns that need to be answered, but they aren’t only the responsibility of the tech behemoths. They’re doomed either way; damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Twitter would have faced criticism for allowing objectionable content to continue encouraging violence and riots if it had allowed harsh campaigning to continue.

A ban, in my opinion, is a failure on our part to promote healthy debate. — Twitter’s CEO, Jack Dorsey
While legislation on big tech is still catching up, technology provides a solution that can solve this problem on its own. Decentralization of social media (and Twitter is also in on it.)

I’m not an expert on blockchain or open-source technology platforms. But the recent rise in cryptocurrencies piqued my interest. So did the importance of decentralized social networks in addressing the numerous difficulties that big tech is currently facing.

So, let’s take a look at the premise of decentralized social networks, the top competitors in the sector, the challenge they face from big tech. And also the app’s future.

Decentralized social networks are based on the use of blockchain and open-source technology.

A decentralized social network has various characteristics that distinguish it from a traditional social media platform. The first major distinction is that it isn’t a single website that you can visit. Rather, it is a network of hundreds of communities, each of which owns a copy of the code. Second, you can make your instance as public or private as you want it to be. You may connect with users from other instances and even cross-platforms.

You can do anything you can on any other social media platform. Including post content, share it with others, collaborate, comment, utilize hashtags, and so on. However, their user interface is not as appealing as the centralized social media sites. When compared to its more mature peers, it is less user-friendly. Confidentiality, freedom of expression, and decentralization are three of their main USPs.

The best thing is that they enable producers to monetise their work by allowing them to earn tokens that are equivalent to major crypto currencies. So, there is a burgeoning marketplace for selling items in return for cryptocurrency. It appears to be a space to keep an eye on, given the recent surge in interest in the crypto market.

For each of today’s large IT platforms, there is a viable alternative.
  • Facebook — Minds, Diaspora, MeWe
  • YouTube — Minds, LBRY, D.Tube, PeerTube
  • Reddit — Aether
  • Twitter — Mastodon
  • Instagram — Karma (Mobile-only app)
  • WhatsApp — Signal

Open Source Code

This means you can examine how the algorithm works and understand why you’re seeing the information you’re seeing in your feed.

You may have a rough understanding of how Instagram selects material in your feed based on user activity, interests, and relevance. But, wouldn’t it be freeing if you knew exactly how the code was developed and had the power to determine how the algorithm should function for you? It exists today; anyone, for example, can develop and run their own mastodon instance. Decentralized social networks accomplish this.

Decentralized control

The rules are not dictated by a central authority (person, server, or company). It deprives huge companies and authoritarian governments of the capacity to regulate social media.

Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Alphabet, and Facebook have a combined market cap of $8 trillion. And this is approximately equal to the GDP of four large countries: France, Italy, Brazil, and Canada. It’s completely insane.

When most countries experienced a sharp drop in their economies, record-high unemployment, and approaching health crises in 2020, these tech businesses increased their sales by $1 trillion.

I’m not sure if this is fair or justified, but it hurts me to know that a significant portion of this revenue comes from adverts sold to us using our own data – how clever. Because of the pandemic, the gap between affluent and poor has only become wider. They have immense power to influence rules and regulations that may not be in our best interests as a species because they have such huge pockets.

Decentralized network structure enables for democratic decision-making among the players. For example, Mastodon has established a decentralized platform where each instance (think of it as a community of users) owns, moderates, and governs itself without the need for a middleman.

Aether has taken the concept of democracy a step further by allowing users to vote for a moderator.

AI Transparency

I just watched a TedX video of a software engineer discussing how he let algorithms randomize the options he was presented with. Instead of choosing one of the top five internet hits, he built a system to choose anything absolutely at random.

That got me thinking about Yuval Noah Harari’s concept of “free will,” which he frequently discusses in his works.

Most of the time, we rely on Google to tell us which restaurants are the best in a given area. Unfortunately, Google knows us better than we know ourselves. And it will offer content based on our history, likes, and relevance. It’s fantastic for users. But imagine being a new cafe owner who wants to get to the top of the search results. How much money will you have to spend on SEO to get your cafe the attention it deserves?

Imagine having access to AI that not only allows you to understand how content recommendations, connections, and ads function. But also allows you to manipulate it in the way you want – putting power in the hands of the user. Rather than the corporation that owns it.

That is precisely what alternative social networks strive to do.

Mastodon, Minds, Diaspora, and others are major players in this field.

Minds, Mastodon, and Diaspora, to mention a few, are some of the alternatives to big tech. These aren’t new – some have been there for more than a decade, such as Diaspora, which debuted in 2010. In comparison, Facebook was founded in 2006, making Diaspora only four years old.

However, as of December 2020, Facebook has over 2.8 billion users, and Diaspora has hardly more than half a million users. Most of us probably have no idea these platforms exist. And it’s not totally our fault. It’s the massive tech eco-system that prevents any kind of competition from flourishing. I just learned about Signal because Elon Musk mentioned it on Twitter. Shortly after WhatsApp unveiled its data-sharing plans with Facebook.

On traditional social media platforms, you will never hear of alternative platforms. At least not as often or as often as you should.

Data privacy, decentralized ownership, a shared business model, and the opportunity to exercise freedom of expression are all advantages that these decentralized networks have over their traditional counterparts.

Then there’s the question of why there’s such a disparity in platform adoption rates.

Why they aren’t as popular as traditional platforms – the David vs. Goliath battle with big tech

Big tech appears to be Goliath in the ‘David and Goliath’ scenario. But they aren’t all terrible. A number of them are exploring decentralization themselves to avoid becoming embroiled in legal disputes over content moderation, censorship, and also takedowns.

For example, Twitter has organized a small team to develop “Bluesky,” a “open, decentralized standard for social media” that Twitter will be one of many applications to use, according to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.

If that concept gains traction, many decentralized social networking sites, such as Mastodon, Activity Pub, and Happening, will join the ecosystem.

While they are currently in the research phase of designing the protocol and receiving standards proposals from the decentralized tech community, this is a big step forward.
While the difficulties that big tech is experiencing are well-known, finding a solution isn’t straightforward. Accepting decentralization may imply renouncement of power, which they may not be prepared to share with anyone, least of all its customers.

Why hasn’t any of these big four platforms looked into blockchain yet, given that it’s been available for over a decade?

Alternative apps’ long-term prospects
We can’t forecast their performance, especially given the unknowns around them: ownership-accountability model, user adoption rate, and rivalry from big tech.

However, there are a few things we can be certain of:
  1. An alternative ecosystem is required that prioritizes the interests of its users over those of businesses.
  2. Blockchain’s use in the financial services industry has the potential to revolutionize how we transact globally.
  3. As bitcoin becomes more widely accepted as a form of payment, its value has increased fivefold in the last six months, and it is expected to reach nearly $400,000 by the end of 2021.

Depending on whether you are a fan or a critic, it may appear ‘too good to be true’ or ‘hilarious,’. But regardless of the path (upward or downward), one thing is certain: cryptocurrencies are here to stay. So is the blockchain-powered alternative IT ecosystem.

Finally, here is a list of more related topics you might find interesting:

  1. Blockchain Technology
  2. Defi
  3. NFTs
  4. DAOs
  5. Crypto
  6. Web 3.0
  7. Altcoin Tokenomics
  8. Metaverse
  9. Smart Contracts

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