Social media showdown ahead as users demand autonomy

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Decentralised social media (DeSo) platforms are increasingly gaining prominence, as assertive users across the globe resist censorship and gain more control over their online content and data.

This was the word from Brian Krassenstein, MD and co-founder of US-based marketing and advertising agency Forum Advertising, speaking at the recent virtual SingularityU South Africa Summit 2021.

In a world where data and content created by social media users is privately owned by a handful of companies that profit from user-generated content, Krassenstein discussed the emerging DeSo trend.

This digital move is influenced by users’ greater need for social networks that foster independence without a central authority.

Also known as blockchain-based social media, DeSo is defined as social media platforms powered by distributed ledger technologies and open source technology, with no central authority to control or oversee the platform and no unauthorised sale of user data.

Users on decentralised social media networks have the freedom to be as public or private as they wish and do not face the risk of censorship, as the developers usually only provide guiding rules and improved control over user-generated content.

While the trend is still in infancy stage, he pointed out that over the next decade, more users are expected to jump ship and join DeSo platforms.

“Most social media that everybody's familiar with − like Facebook and Twitter − is centralised. Centralised social media is mainly owned by a corporation which controls these platforms – they control all the data, they own user data, and they also profit off of what a user is doing on the platform.

“If you're on an Instagram store, Facebook owns Instagram. If you're making posts and driving traffic to Instagram, because of those posts, Facebook is benefiting from that. Twitter is doing the same thing – Twitter is benefiting from user presence on the platform because that drives traffic and they sell adverts against that traffic.

“If these platforms want to censor you, they can censor you. If they don't want you on the platform, they can ban you from the platform. They control everything. They're like the gatekeeper of sorts,” noted Krassenstein.

Due to blockchain technology’s increased user privacy and data security, which is premised on cryptography, DeSo is able to prevent the unauthorised sale of user data, he noted.

Furthermore, when social media content is stored in a public blockchain, as opposed to it being owned by entities that monopolise it, the understanding around this concept is that blockchain could potentially be more trustworthy and powerful enough to eventually rival, or become more successful than mainstream social media giants in future.

Running wild?

Despite DeSo’s potential, experts caution that its lack of content analysis may give users too much control and autonomy, resulting in sharing of inaccurate information or offensive content.

Referencing BitClout as an example, Krassenstein explained the decentralised social media platform is based on an open source crypto-currency substructure and is owned by its users.

Other examples of decentralised social media networks include Subsocial, Trodl (formerly Uptrennd) and Steem.

“In this example, you have all the data that is created residing on a decentralised blockchain. Basically, this is a database that is just stored on hundreds, possibly thousands of computers as the platforms grow.

“The data isn't centralised, it isn't controlled by one entity. It's controlled by everybody that runs a node, which is basically a copy of that database – nobody controls that data – it's in a democratised form, so you don't have a company or anybody making money off of that data.”

The safety of user data on social networks has been a globally contentious issue since Facebook breached data protection laws by allowing research consultancy Cambridge Analytica to harvest the data of millions of users without their consent in early 2018.

Social media censorship of users also gained momentum over the past few years, after former US president Donald Trump's accounts were banned on Twitter, Facebook and several other platforms for policy violation.

Other people who have been banned or suspended from social media include former White House strategist Sidney Powell, US musician Rihanna and YouTube content creator PewDiePie.

This week, Trump announced his new social media platform, dubbed “TRUTH”, which he claims will have no censorship and “stand up to Big Tech” companies such as Twitter and Facebook – as part of its mission to give a voice to all users.

Krassenstein highlighted the important role of Web 3.0 in paving the way for the success of decentralised social media, defined as the next stage of the World Wide Web evolution, involving the creation of high-quality online content and services produced by individuals using innovative technology as an enabling platform.

“I think the internet's going to continue to evolve and Web 3.0 is going to democratise data. I think blockchain technology democratises data by taking it out of the control of corporations and putting it into the hands of users. On these emerging platforms enabled by Web 3.0, users are controlling their data and nobody can sell it because it's on a decentralised blockchain.”

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