As the social media landscape changes rapidly with current events, the question of decentralization becomes more relevant.
The world of digital communications is not static. As social media has become a mainstay in our lives, the way we interact with one another online has slowly transformed into the molding of ‘Big Tech’. However, is life under these tech giants a threat to thriving digital independence?
The good, the bad, and the centralized
Recently, the conflict in Ukraine has shown social media to be a powerful but problematic tool. Many call this the first, “social media war.” Previously, conflicts like the US-Vietnam War took the label of the first, “television war.”
On the one hand, social media has been used to bolster aid efforts and raise awareness of events. However it has also provided a skewed version of reality due to things such as deep fakes and rapid misinformation spread.
The centralization of many of the major social media outlets has allowed for easier censorship of ideas and individuals. Naturally, moves like this limit the free speech and expression many of these platforms initially encourage.
In addition to the conflict, the recent news of Elon Musk’s Twitter purchase raised eyebrows.
Musk claims a big motivation was to encourage free speech on the platform. On the other hand, critics are wary of the privatization of the platform by the single richest person in the world. In reality, whether it is a single man or the cabal of “Big Tech”, these platforms are centralized monopolies of our digital realities.
Who is Big Tech?
There are five major names under the guise of ‘Big Tech’. This includes Alphabet (Google), Amazon, Apple, Meta (Facebook), and Microsoft. These companies have a disproportionate influence over the way the entire world functions. Their technology underlies many of the most essential systems in our modern societies.
Most of the major social media platforms, from Facebook and Instagram, to YouTube and Twitter have a connection with one of these companies. They hold the key to our data, ideas, and identities.
What is decentralized social media?
If decentralization provides solutions to the problems of centralized finance and information storing, surely it can troubleshoot those of centralized social media.
First it’s important to understand what decentralized social media is exactly and how it differs from traditional social media platforms. BeInCrypto spoke with Alex Siman, founder of Subsocial, an open protocol for decentralized social networks and marketplaces, to better understand these differences.
Decentralized vs centralized: Main differences
At the very basic level, decentralized social networks run via independently operated and verified servers on a blockchain. This is in contrast to standard social networks, which run on centralized servers owned by a single business entity. Therefore, users and founders of decentralized social networks have both more control and autonomy.
Siman said other major differences, and benefits, of decentralized social media include, “open source algorithms, monetization without middlemen, resistance to censorship, less bots and spam, and user-owned social graphs.”
Censorship vs Moderation
The decentralization of online spaces with radical ideas and viewpoints could be a concern. However, it’s important to note that a decentralized social media platform doesn’t automatically equal total anarchy and extremists. In a TED Talk, days before his Twitter acquisition, Musk said online discourse should be “as free as reasonably possible”. A way to achieve this is the right balance of moderation.
Censorship and moderation are two different things. One inhibits the practice of freedom of expression, while the other encourages constructive discourse and the reimagination of conversations.
“Decentralized platforms are censorship resistant, but there can still be moderation,” Siman says. “For example, Subsocial is the social network of Web3, but users will still need to use web apps to interact with it. These web apps can include moderation to keep them clean. If problematic actors want their content to be visible, they may need to host their own web app. From a network standpoint, you can be totally decentralized and censorship resistant, while still being clean and orderly from a user experience standpoint.”
Another example of censorship vs moderation is an upcoming social network for political discourse called Etha. While the platform is not currently on the blockchain, it has future plans for this development. Meanwhile, Etha prides itself on circumventing censorship through moderation of discourse as “constructive vs deconstructive”. Nicole Ogloza, co-founder of Etha says such labels, “will be used to deter people from making assumptions and get back to having conversations.”
Constructive conversations show people in green. Those that facilitate such conversations get, “reward points in the platform to use for crypto exchange or points to gather as a community for exclusive deals”. Those with the deconstructive label, “don’t get banned, but do get a red dot mentioning that they may not be the friendliest.”
Such moderation whether it be through AI, in the case of Etha, or community members, has the potential to take decentralized social spaces to the next level of online interactions.
Decentralized Social Trends
As with other areas of the decentralized landscape, there are trends that stick out which make or break certain innovations. In the realm of decentralized networks financial integration is a huge trend. Siman referred to this as, “SoFi”.
“We’ve already had DeFi and then GameFi, SoFi is next. Things like the integration of tips or donations right into social networks, merging platforms like Patreon and Twitter together, and having social tokens for communities.”
Though it’s important to highlight that monetization alone cannot stand as the only incentive in such networks. The hope for better discourse in general is a prize enough. “Constructive comments also show how quickly we can solve issues on policy and law making from a community level, and then find middle ground on national levels,” says Ogloza.
Truly free online socializing
The social media corner of the decentralized world is still in adolescence. Partly due to the newness of the space in general, partly because of the dominance of Big Tech. However, as the world changes so do the needs of society – both on and offline.
When billionaires publicly take over our online spaces and conflicts restrict freedoms, the need grows for more censorship-resistant, bias-resistant digital spaces. Only time will tell how and when decentralized social networks will disrupt the digital world.
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