Twitter has announced developments in its decentralized social media project, BlueSky, appointing cryptocurrency developer Jay Graber as the project leader. The project could see Twitter create a federated (interconnected) social network, or fediverse, where social media apps are independently hosted on servers but can interact and communicate with each other.
The fediverse hands control back to the user, who can choose the app that best suits their needs and still have the freedom to interact with users on different apps. Email is a good example of independently hosted social networking platforms using the fediverse. Each company has a central control system, but emails can be sent and received from different email platforms.
BlueSky could create a more competitive market within the social media industry, protect user data from cyberattacks, and give users more autonomy over their data.
Moving Twitter to BlueSky could disrupt industry standards
Twitter’s development of BlueSky could disrupt traditional social media architecture and user experiences. The company’s CEO, Jack Dorsey, tweeted in December 2019: “Twitter is funding a small independent team of up to five open source architects, engineers, and designers to develop an open and decentralized standard for social media. The goal is for Twitter to ultimately be a client of this standard.” In other words, Twitter would be hosted on the independent server BlueSky and become part of an open and independent system.
Decentralized apps (Dapps) already exist but are not widely used. For example, Diaspora, which has a million users, sits on independently run servers and users own their personal data. Similarly, Mastodon has 4 million users and operates on several open-source servers operated by different organizations and individuals.
If BlueSky is successful and Twitter, with its 206 million daily active users, becomes a major client of the distributed network, the project could set a new open, decentralized standard for social media applications.
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Decentralized solutions protect user data
Big Tech social media platforms have large user bases which operate under self-contained centralized models. Cyberattacks are a significant threat to centralized social media networks because a breach would expose a huge amount of sensitive data.
Facebook, the biggest social media platform globally with 1.9 billion daily active users, has experienced several security breaches. In 2018 attackers were able to access the private information of over 50 million users, and in 2019 Facebook revealed it had been storing 600 million users’ passwords in a machine-readable format.
Hosting social media platforms in the fediverse means personal information is stored on distributed servers, which are more difficult to hack. Some decentralized social media apps, such as the Manyverse, store users’ data on their devices rather than on a central server, adding an extra layer of protection. As cyberattacks become more sophisticated, distributed social media networks offer a protective solution.
Open source algorithms could create unprecedented data autonomy
Social media platforms are driven by recommendation algorithms, curating the posts and adverts users see. CEO Jack Dorsey suggested BlueSky would mean “building open recommendation algorithms which promote healthy conversation and will force us to be far more innovative than in the past.”
Most social media recommendation algorithms are proprietary. While users can set some parameters, for example, selecting ad topic preferences on Instagram, the methodologies behind recommendation algorithms are opaque.
While it is in its infancy, the BlueSky network may allow users to decide which third-party advertisers can access their data for targeted ads. However, user freedom and autonomy could also affect misinformation due to reduced moderation, potentially breeding pockets of extremism.
Hosting Twitter on a decentralized network could revolutionize social media, creating a privacy-centric model for traditional social media applications. However, the social media giant should factor misinformation risk into the network’s development. Twitter is ahead of the game, prioritizing better data autonomy, consumer choice, and cybersecurity.