With the phrase “if you’re not paying for it, you’re the product” now closely associated with the world of social networks, the assumption that compromising on privacy and data harvesting is the only way to access a free social network is now deep-rooted.
Over the past few years, incidents such as the Cambridge Analytica scandal have exposed the data practices of social media giants, and as a result, a number of users are logging off for good. According to a study conducted by Pew Research Center last year, 44% of younger users in the US have deleted the Facebook app from their phone.
But will a new form of social media ever take the place of the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Youtube? For some startups, the solution to the problems associated with centralised social networks lies with the blockchain.
Blockchain and social media
Blockchain has already disrupted a number of industries, and in the future it may do the same for social media. In fact, social media platforms based on blockchain already exist, with the aim of providing users an alternative way to gain control over their data.
Simply put, blockchain is a decentralised public ledger in which information is stored across a network of computers, rather than a centralised system.
Although it is most commonly associated with crypotcurrencies, the ledger can be used for almost anything, including social networks.
Without a central server, a blockchain Facebook alternative would have no single authority or middleman controlling the network, limiting the power tech giants currently have over user data and the type of content users see on their social media feeds.
With accusations over Facebook’s promotion of certain types of news content having an impact on political events, a blockchain Facebook alternative offering greater control over content may be an attractive option for many users.
Blockchain technology means that whatever is posted on a social network can be traced and cannot be duplicated, ensuring greater transparency and making it harder for user data to be unknowingly transferred to third parties. What’s more if information is deleted, it is removed from the whole system, meaning third parties can no longer access it.
Taking on bots and fake news
A distributed consensus mechanism could also help tackle the problem of fake news. A blockchain Facebook alternative would make it easier to keep track of data, making it possible to trace information to the source. This means that the legitimacy of information shared on the system can be verified.
Furthermore, the same system could make it easier to track and delete fake or bot accounts, with Facebook removing around 1.3 billion fake accounts in the first half of 2018, highlighting the scale of the problem.
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Social networks are also more vulnerable to cyberattacks such as the 2012 Linkedin incident in which an estimated 6.5 million passwords were stolen by hackers. The decentralised nature of blockchain means that there is not one point of entry into the system, making it harder for these types of attacks to occur.
Could a blockchain Facebook alternative become mainstream?
They may not be household names yet, but blockchain Facebook alternatives already exist, with Steemit now having 61,000 daily users and decentralised platform Mind, which pays users in cryptocurrency for their contributions to the community, gaining popularity.
Facebook itself has shown an interesting in the technology. According to Medium, the social media company is developing a cryptocurrency for Whatsapp, and has advertised a number of blockchain-related jobs at the company.
But will the technology ever gain the momentum to take on the tech giants? As of the fourth quarter of 2018, Facebook had 2.32 billion monthly active users, so any blockchain-based challenger has a long way to go to catch up.
To build a social media platform of that scale would take significant investment, not to mention a dramatic public response to existing platforms leading to large numbers migrating to a new platform.