Tag Archives: decentralised

Social media: to decentralise or not?

In recent days in Europe the media was all over the possible bans and restrictions on social media contributions. Most of the prominent social media outlets are run by big, centralized corporations like Facebook (included Instagram), Twitter and Google. There seems to be an ever increasing urge to weed out ‘hate speech’ and ‘fake news’ postings and comments. The big corporations have been acting accordingly and went forward vigorously not in the least place to align with local laws. The tightening rules have already led to many instances of Twitter users who have been confronted by their new or adjusted rules.

The situation concerning social media last week intensified as the German law regulating the limits of free speech on Internet  (NetzDG) asked Twitter to remove a message placed by Afd politician Beatrix von Storch. The French president Marcon went as far as to forbid the use of social media accounts during election times in order to stop the spread of fake news and hate speech. In the past such law proposals or actions were associated with regimes that put a hard stance on the freedom of speech but now even countries where the freedom of speech still looked to be intact come into the line of fire.

No matter how clear or detailed a nations constitution in respect to the limits of free speech, there will always be unclear situations. A complication is that lawful actions are always enticed against social media. Especially ‘fake news’ by mainstream media is hardly regulated, correction after complaints or decisions in court afterwards are being honoured.

The new situation from western governments towards social media is clearly dangerous for the freedom of speech in these countries. A decentralised blockchain can also offer a solution for a new type of social media. In such a scenario there would be no big central corporation like Facebook or Twitter who can operate along their guide lines to make their own interpretations of freedom of speech. There are no (supra)national governments that can dictate what information is within the terms of (supra)national laws.

The published social media information would be stored in a blockchain and would be available from the ‘Genesis’ block, the very first posting onto the latest additions, so all information ever published in the blockchain will always stay there.

There will be complications and challenges involved in such a scenario. Typical blockchain data as we know it, is mainly related to crypto currency like Bitcoin. The big challenge with crypto currency is to overcome the hurdle of ‘double spending’  which needs extensive security measures to be trustful and successful. The social media data needs to be trustful as the integrity of information is from an identified poster and published information can not be altered or removed. It is however obviously that it needs another level of security than compared to financial transactions. The data being generated with social media can get quite overwhelming quantitively  (number of publications)  and is intensive (images, sound and video). From a perspective of usability there would be a need for a multi layered, scalable system where most recent data can be served to its users instantly, as where older data can be retrieved from full network nodes operating in the background. This situation is similar to the Bitcoin blockchain where now attempts are made to discriminate between the ‘store of value’ aspect versus the ‘transaction’ aspect.

There needs to be an incentive for all involved to keep processing and storing the data. Social media like Facebook and Twitter might be experienced from an user standpoint considered as ‘free of use’. Yet there is a business model behind the activities, like targeted advertising and marketing: the user becomes the product. This business model would need to be translated into  an equivalent in a decentralised world. Social media blockchain based platform Steem offers an alternative business and hopefully viable model.

Finally there is the issue of anonymity versus the real identity of the poster on social media. Operating on social media as a identifiable ‘real’ person has its benefits because it will lead to users better taking responsibility of their postings. Whenever the poster can operate (somewhat) anonymously there will be a greater sense of freedom to  express or even publish false information. That is where the dilemma of non-destroyablity of information in the blockchain comes into play. If information is false or harming the information still will be there ‘forever’ on the blockchain and searchable or findable for users. This is an extra argument for identifiable, real users in order to raise the level of responsibility. The fact that information will stay forever on the blockchain will also contribute to how people (literally) expose themselves and face the consequences of such actions.

The flip side of real identities is that users in situations where there is no freedom of speech will be heavily hindered in expressing their views and might face personal consequences from governments. In such cases a decentralised social media system might better not used and instant messaging application are probably more suited. In any way there will need to be an admission process to the decentralised social media system whether it is based on the anonymity versus identifiable discussion there has to be measures taken to guarantee the identity of a person involved.

Ewald Kegel, Jan. 6th 2018, Nootdorp