Despite the big talks about a more ethical and beneficial use of social media networks, which is able to curb offensive and violent content, the real benefits of introducing Blockchain and other decentralised technologies in social platforms are still unexplored.
While Whatsapp users migrate to other platforms (Telegram in particular) spooked by privacy issues, here, we look at the current scenario of the main social networks.
Freedom of speech VS Need for security
Using Social Media Networks gives us the impression to be totally in control of our data. But this assumption is very far from reality, as companies have the full authority to manage someone’s information, needing only the user to agree to privacy policies. It’s the central authority who has the power to manage users’ data in full.
Crushed between the freedom of speech and the need for fact-checking and neutralising conspiracy theories, and only a few weeks after Twitter‘s decision to flag Trump for tweeting false information, social networks are not able to get to grips with their inherent challenges.
Few attempts have been made so far to create decentralised social networks using other technologies (including the Blockchain) always with the same aim: trying to shift the power in favour of users.
A few years ago, the ambitious EU- funded project Helios planned the creation of a decentralised social media platform promising a safe space for all users to share their information, manage and delete them when and how they like. By the end of 2021, when the project will end, we will see where it goes.
If China has legitimated direct government control over social networks, western countries still need to rack one’s brain to protect “civic integrity“.
Recent Twitter’s CEO’s decision to convert to decentralisation can open new horizons. With Bluesky, CEO Jack Dorsey is aiming to create a decentralised standard for social networks.
This initiative, still at its early stage, would allow individual applications on the protocol to decide who can speak or not, and ultimately make sure that platforms like Twitter have less responsibility in determining which users and communities are banned from social media. Like Bitcoin that lacks a central bank, here it lacks a central authority.
The striking case of Telegram
The case of Telegram is singular, as Pavel Durov, the CEO of the popular messaging app announced it surpassed 500 million monthly active users last January, becoming a serious competitor of Whatsapp.
WhatsApp clarified that there is no way to see through encrypted chats and calls, but now the concern is raised.
Telegram, in addition to the privacy issue, fueled the protest against Big Tech, accused of removing tones of far-right accounts (including President Trump) and basically of censoring, whereas the freeware, cross-platform instant messaging app launched in 2013 uses public usernames ensuring total anonymity from government other intrusions.
Plus, end-to-end encryption means no one can read any content between sender and receiver.
But the massive migration to Telegram has a much wider range than just America, with exponential growth in Asia and middle eastern countries.
Famous for its secret chats and the self-destruct timer for pics and messages, the app built its crypto-reputation due to the many groups dedicated to cryptocurrency that made it look like a social network, and its attempt to launch its own cryptocurrency named Gram.
Users do not need a SIM card to log nor an app to carry a conversation on different platforms (their laptop instead of a mobile device) as it happens on Whatsapp Web, but they can authenticate and launch it only with a security code. Moreover, it gives people the freedom to contact any user on the server.
Big Tech like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest owe everything to the relationship they have with their users, and for the power balance on their own side, as data is power.
Centralised applications are usually faster, easier to build and more economically sustainable, and here is the problem.
How to build a decentralised business model?
COVID-19 pandemic is an example of how many uses of Blockchain technology from track-and-trace to the storage of several kinds of health data giving countless advantages.
The impression is that in many other fields, it is a yet not-well understood and unexplored universe.