The arrival and rapid growth of social networking has changed the way people interact, think and take decisions about so many things in life. It has also given the public a means to voice their opinions about literally anything. Its power is tremendous and even politicians and celebs are not unaffected by its reach. It has also become a preferred medium for the myriads of brands to advertise and promote their services and products. Social media keeps evolving with time, and along with the numerous benefits it also has some serious drawbacks.
The inherent problems of social media platforms and usage woes
People rely on social media platforms like Facebook to keep in touch with distant friends and relatives while fashion conscious lot relies on Instagram to update their buddies. Whatsapp has almost replaced traditional mobile messaging nowadays! Most people do not even seriously think or realize how dependant they have become on these social media services.
However, like everything else in technology- social media has its flip sides and loopholes. The ways these companies deal with user data has drawn wrath of the public. Instances of social media based fake news and rumor spreading are too commonplace. Several celeb social media profiles have been hacked in the last few years too. The Facebook Cambridge Anlytica scandal is still fresh in minds of the majority of users. It also triggered a number of federal investigations. Even LinkedIn once suffered from a password breach issue.
Apart from the data privacy issue faced by the social media users, the woe of excessive ads is there. Not everyone is comfortable seeing so many ads popping up in his profile when all he wants is chatting with close ones! The menace of fake accounts is something the social media services find hard to deal with. Only in 2019’s first quarter, Facebook reportedly removed 2.2 billion fake accounts.
Potential of blockchain to alter working mechanism of social media services
The arrival of blockchain tech a decade back excited a section of geeks and it gave birth to crypto currency- a new means to make transactions without staying under regulation of banks or any centralized entity. While there is considerable haze around crypto currency for its volatile nature and absence of regulation- the underlying technology aka blockchain holds promise. Blockchain tech is now being utilized by many govt entities and MNCs like IBM for purposes other than making anonymous transactions. Its adoption has started taking place in sectors like aviation, hospitality, healthcare and education. The experts feel blockchain can be harnessed to alter functioning of social media networks.
The next generation of social network platforms could be based on this technology. They will discard the centralized nature and adopt a decentralized system. This will help these platforms become more privacy focused, secure and hacking proof.
A number of blockchain based platforms targeting social media users have been launched and these include GLBrain, Steemit, and Telegram Open Network.
Reasons why a blockchain based social networking service will work:
- Enhanced user control over content- The Social networks make use of user information extensively. Whether it is Facebook or Instagram, the moment you upload a video, image or post- it becomes accessible to others in your profile. Yes, there are privacy settings but these have their limitations too. So far, the social media companies have used user data to generate revenues! A blockchain-based approach brings decentralized operation. So, there is no single agency or entity to monitor and control user generated content. Obsidian is one classic example and another is Nexus- a platform mixing crowdfunding with social networking. Of course, running decentralized network is not free and it is driven by a cryptocurrency.
- Better security- Social media users have grown weary about security. The privacy paranoid lot finds it hard to rely on policies of social media entities. Using blockchain ensures both security and privacy through deployment of distributed consensus mechanism. Nexus does away with risks of privacy invasion through decentralizing and encrypting data.
- Freedom of speech- Those who live in countries like China that have widespread social media censorship in place know how taxing it can be! They block the servers of social media networks to ensure the users can’t access the apps and track ISPs. This is often bypassed by using VPNs but that is not also fail proof. Using a blockchain-based approach can help the avid social media users in these countries bypass govt censorship more effectively. It results in secure authentication without compromising on anonymity. Platforms like Obsidian let the users bypass the censors and evade surveillance. It does not use phone number based account system and so communication metadata remains decentralized.
- Payment method- There exist many online and digital payment methods but they also come with their drawbacks and loopholes. Instances of people falling prey to scams targeting Google Pay have been found. Blockchain based messaging can be integrated with payment. The cryptocurrencies are actually blockchain-based and smart contracts can be used to make such transactions more secure. This will make social network more like a trusted network from the financial perspective.
- Prospect for crowdfunding – crowdfunding is longer a new concept- as it is. The popularity of websites like Indiegogo and Kickstarter need no introduction. A blockchain based social network can be used to allow the users gather money using crowdfunding. No external payment mechanisms will be required.
Summing it up
The operating mechanism and magnitude of usage of social media platforms has led to user data turning into a commodity. It has also thrown open numerous avenues for data abuse and misuse too. By adopting blockchain technology, and deploying a decentralized approach -social networking can be made safer, more privacy focused. It may also pave the way for contact driven crowdfunding. The experts predict blockchain-based social media channels will incentivize good behavior, introduce safe payment channels, and safeguard data privacy. However, Blockchain technology is still gaining momentum and it is still evolving. So, it will take some time before blockchain based projects can be made en masse.