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Blockchain’s Impact on Social Media and the Future of Free Expression

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The parallel permanent version of the internet that will incorporate blockchain tech is definitely one to look forward to, given all the benefits that it will bring with it, like an immutable ledger of history, and an added layer of security where a decentralised network means no one entity can close the network’s servers down.

It is something that will affect and be implemented by many industries, including social media. So how might blockchain technology and the permaweb affect social media, the way it works and the way users interact with it? Let’s take a closer look.

It’s always on

The most obvious benefit of a social media platform running on a decentralised network of computers (nodes) is the fact that there is no off switch that someone can press – ‘no throat to choke’, if we look at it from a censorship perspective, too. With legacy social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, there is always the parent company that has the ability to shut all the users out at any time they desire. This is because they control the servers on which their social media platform works. 

On a blockchain, you have multiple nodes that run the network. No one person or company can decide when it is turned off. In fact, there is no off switch in the first place. Once the network is decentralised enough (has a high enough number of nodes) it creates a runaway effect that can’t be prevented from expanding, assuming the incentives are in place. That is, not unless all the nodes shut down at the same time, which in the real world is highly unlikely.

On top of that, not even external events could shut the network down. Assuming that there was a balanced distribution of the nodes worldwide, even if all of the USA and all of Asia had a countrywide energy blackout at the same time, there would still be nodes running the network in Europe, Africa and Australia.

No matter when you want to log on, read and post, you will be able to do so.

Ownership of your content

Another added benefit to a decentralised social media platform would be the fact that you could have ownership of all the content you post. Let’s look a potential way to do this.

NFTs are a way of having and proving ownership of digital content. They are revolutionising the way artists create and get paid, all around the world. 

Before blockchain tech, there was no way of showing who the true owner of a piece of digital art was. Anyone who wanted to duplicate an image from the web could do so without any trace of which image was the original and who owned it. Some might argue that this is still the case. Only now the act of duplicating the image can be compared to taking a photo of the Mona Lisa, or buying a poster of the painting from the Louvre gift shop. You have a copy of the Mona Lisa, but you don’t own the Mona Lisa. In the digital world, ownership is proven via NFTs. 

NFTs are essentially tokens that can be held in your digital wallet (connected to your unique address on the blockchain). So, sure, someone can right click and download your image, but they don’t own that token. And when the time comes, for example, to enter a private club for owners of a specific type of NFT, you can prove you own it. The person that duplicated it can’t.

So take this concept of NFTs and apply it to social media.

Everything you post on the platform could instantly be connected to you as an NFT. You would literally be able to own your original posted content. You could even then go ahead and sell or even rent out your content. Remember that post you had with over 5k likes and comments? That has some value in the world of the internet, and you could rent it out to another social media platform or an advertising company if you wanted to.

One platform that has already taken this idea and made it a reality is BBS. They aim to be a type of decentralised forum/message board. As they put it on their website:

“Every post is actually an NFT that users can create, buy, sell and collect revenue from the ad space on posts they own”.

Arweave-based decentralized social protocol decent.land also defaults to minting each piece of content as an atomic NFT, and allows creators to gate their private communities with certain NFTs as the entry ticket. Owning and monetising your content is a massive game changer.

Censorship, safeguarding and accountability

Bypassing a central controlling entity means that there is noone that can censor users for unfair reasons. Also, accounts can always be recovered, and never just get deleted after a certain time of inactivity without users even knowing.

No one is able to change or delete what users say just because they don’t like it, or it doesn’t conform to the parent company’s marketing rules or the beliefs of their stakeholders. However, this raises another question. What if people post illegal content? There are certain safeguards in place for issues like this.

Shepherd, for example, is a framework that can be used by developers in conjunction with the Arweave Permaweb in order to build content moderation systems. This would flag content that seemed illegal based on a pre-existing database of transactions. We won’t get too technical. But even though these moderation systems and protocols are on the right course, they still have a long way to go.

The bottom line is that combining these safeguards along with blockchain technology means we get a censorship free platform that is also morally safe for its users and developers.

In today’s society it is really unfortunate that sometimes politicians, public figures and even entire governments go back on things they have said. With an immutable ledger of all posts and comments ever made on social media being stored on the Permaweb, we can always look back and check what was said. This will be a safeguard against (social media) history being rewritten.

Justice

Social media is bigger than just a digital wall of posts, comments and photos. It is without doubt that the internet and this evolution of technology has granted a major advantage to oppressed individuals and even the entire population of certain countries. Having the ability to take out your phone and record a video, that you can then upload to the internet, can save lives and serve justice in some cases.

Social media plays a massive role in this. It is where these videos are predominately uploaded to. They are the easiest and quickest way for getting these videos seen and making them go viral, with most smartphone operating systems offering a “share” function to do this as fluently as possible.

People see what is happening in these videos, question them and seek an answer to why the miscarriage of justice in them is taking place. People come together and seek justice as a collective. And in turn this inspires even more people to speak up about their oppression and mistreatment.

So what if these videos never even reached social media due to government control? Well, imagine a world where any individual in any country with an authoritarian government would have the ability to post a video that could not be taken down by said government. This scenario would lead to a domino effect where these entire governments would be held accountable for their actions, as the evidence would be served for the entire world to see.

The future is in the hands of the users

There are a myriad of different scenarios that could take place when blockchain hits mainstream social media for good. It seems almost inevitable that many developers will come out with their own versions of decentralised social media platforms. The incentives for these developers, as well as their users are too big to be ignored. 

The hardest part though may be getting people to transition to such platforms in the first place. In a world where we are all used to using Facebook and Twitter, how will such a massive immigration even be possible? Even though there may be a battle for the dominant platform, at the end of the day, it will be the many that decide. And with an estimated 3.78 Billion users in 2021 across all Social Media platforms, the many, in this case, are indeed the users.


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