Blockchain is the generic term for a specific decentralized approach to online data storage and access. The process is complex and necessitates a network of computers (via IBM), but in its most basic form, blockchain disperses information across a network and then encrypts it so that only the entire network working together can read it. In theory, this should provide users with quick and transparent access while discouraging bad actors from tampering with stored data. Even better, external hacking of blockchain is currently impossible.
Currently, the most well-known blockchain applications are cryptocurrency and NFTs; crypto is blockchain applied to money, and NFTs are blockchain applied to art. Many people are looking for the next “blockchain as applied to X,” and social media data is a popular possibility, according to TechCrunch. The first and foremost offering of blockchain to the market is security; it is fundamentally a security protocol, a new way to control encryption and access to critical information. Social media companies frequently face security issues because they are built on a complex, rapidly changing set of standards for sharing information versus protecting it. Blockchain technology could provide a solution.
A new solution for an old problem?
For otherwise successful social media companies, information security is a major headache. Major breaches occur far too frequently, putting millions of people at risk. Firewall Times has compiled a list of 18 major data breaches that have occurred on Facebook since 2007. Twitter has a similar track record. The social media industry is forced to live on the horns of a trilemma: social networks want their users to freely share data, collect and sell user data in a proprietary manner, and lock both datasets away from anyone who hasn’t paid, either in currency or monetizable attention. It’s not an easy equation to figure out.
As a result, it’s not surprising that major social media companies have either tried or are trying blockchain-based security solutions. Facebook tried and failed with Libra, its own in-house cryptocurrency. Twitter continues to invest money and brainpower in BlueSky. It makes sense that Facebook, Twitter, and other megacorporations are investigating blockchain; when it comes to security, they need all the help they can get. However, some smaller businesses are considering even larger solutions.
Seeking security on the global social network
Blockchain isn’t just a security solution for these new startups: it’s a paradigm shift. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and every other content-creation-based social network rely on a core body of content to which they can sell access. That is their business strategy. According to the Oxford Internet Institute, blockchain may render that model unsustainable. There is no single major archive in blockchain. Data is secured in various locations across the network and cannot be decoded without access to the entire network. Blockchain-based startups keep this in mind.
DSCVR (pronounced “discover”) is based on tokens, which are pieces of data attached to a user’s online identity that reflect a positive impact in the DSCVR community. Social tokens are earned by other users upvoting content, whereas service tokens are earned by performing work on behalf of the DSCVR platform. DSCVR is governed by systemwide votes that are split 50/50. Peepeth, a Twitter clone, is one of many Ethereum cryptocurrency blockchain apps. Notably, it limits users to one Ens (Peepeth’s version of a “like”) per day in order to encourage thoughtful, deliberate engagement. Minds, a Facebook/LinkedIn replacement, and Mirror, a Medium-style free writing platform that mints finished posts as NFTs readers can pay for in Ethereum, are two other decentralized apps built on the Ethereum standard.
In contrast to DSCVR and Peepeth, which are specific decentralized apps, DeSo is an entire blockchain dedicated to social media applications. Its offer is to “scale decentralized social applications to one billion users,” according to its website. All of these applications claim to solve the problem of informational security, or infosec, as it relates to social media content. Their offer is a completely novel approach to online data security.
Decentralization both is and isn’t the future
As previously stated, DeSo claims to be a tool for bringing a blockchain-based social network to one billion users. It’s worth noting that DeSo has never done anything like that. In fact, no decentralized social media project has come close to that figure. None of these startups can compete with Twitter, Facebook, or other established brands in terms of funding or customer base.
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Users and creators, on the other hand, see blockchain social networks as the first step toward web3, a safer, less centralized, and more user-directed approach to online interaction. For them, blockchain is a critical first step toward giving users more control over what they create and providing better protection against online bad actors. Blockchain, on the other hand, is viewed as a passing fad by stakeholders in traditional social networks. Regardless, the applications of blockchain to social networking are sufficiently fertile and appealing that people are investing and infrastructure is being built.