Social media has become indistinguishable from daily life for the majority of people in this developed world. Only 10% of people were on social media platforms in 2010, and it was largely the domain of teens and young people expressing their personalities through the unique backgrounds, embedded songs, and quotes littering their MySpace profiles.
By 2017, the percentage of people on at least one social media platform had risen to 80%. Over 3 billion people worldwide have a profile on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or some other social media platform, a total figure that has risen by around 13% year-over-year. Young people are especially likely to embrace the many different forms of social media. 78% of 18-to-24-year-old people use Snapchat regularly, while 71% of young people in the same age range use Instagram, while 45% are on Twitter. But, during this current COVID-19 pandemic, the rates of using social media are rising day by day.
There are several proposed improvements to social media that involve the introduction of blockchain technology. Hopefully, these improvements can help mitigate some of the detrimental mental health effects of social media, as well as privacy concerns that have plagued several of the most popular social media platforms.
Today, virtually everyone is active on social media. According to Statista, in 2017, 81% of the population had a social media account, while the monthly global user base is expected to reach 3.02 billion by 2021.
We can say that social networking has taken over Internet users’ lives, with social networking apps being the preferred entry point for content and engagement. According to studies, teenagers spend at least nine hours per day on social networks, with the majority of this being done through mobile devices. The same data says that users spend even more time on social media than actual socializing.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social networks give you untethered access to their platforms, all in exchange for something valuable – insights into your behaviors, preferences, habits, connections, location, and content.
In this article, we are going to discuss blockchain in social media, its use-cases, challenges, and many more!
What is Blockchain Social Media?
These are decentralized platforms, built on top of the blockchain technology that allows the development of applications and smart contracts.
Leveraging the underlying blockchain and DLT platforms, these decentralized social media platforms enable end-to-end encryptions for every interaction. Moreover, typical to the blockchain ecosystems, they usually have features like native currency, used for in-platform transactions, rewarding users, and crowdfunding.
With this basic understanding of blockchain social networks, let us now underline the utility or benefits of implementing it.
Benefits Arises from the Interlinking of Blockchain and Social Media
- A Check on User Commodification: Presently, data is one of the most profitable assets. Those in control of data have the power to control the mind, behavior, and other aspects of the data producer. Moreover, centralized social media platforms are goldmines of personal data. It is an open secret that the likes of Facebook and Instagram, among others, leverage the user’s data to enable targeted advertisement for their clients. Here, remind yourself of the times that you browsed something on Amazon, and the product’s ad kept popping up on Facebook, Instagram, and virtually everywhere. Although the technique is applaudable from a marketing perspective, it has grave implications for the user at the receiving end. That is, the user is being commodified, turned into a product and, in essence, stripped of the privacy. Owing to their peer-to-peer network, end-to-end encryption, and the absence of ‘third-parties,’ distributed social media platforms rule out such threats of user commodification. Also, by extension, it imparts the users greater control over their data.
- Privacy and Freedom of Expression: Every interaction on centralized social media, including private messages, is accessible to those in charge of moderating these platforms. Among other things, this poses a severe threat to the users’ privacy. Moreover, content posted on social media is being used increasingly for political gains, as well as to curb dissent. Understandably, this is a major deterrent to the democratic ideals of freedom of speech and expression. With its decentralized consensus mechanisms, blockchain social media platforms ensure greater privacy, and also help in realizing the users’ right to express freely. However, such an absolute lack of regulations might indeed pose newer threats. If these decentralized platforms are to match the popularity of the present social media giants, such issues need to be addressed over time.
- Scope for Crowdfunding: Apart from non-monetary benefits, social media blockchain also offers materialistic rewards. Most decentralized social networks reward users (nodes) for posting on their network. Similar to most blockchain ecosystems, such rewards come in the form of the network’s native cryptocurrency. Moreover, these social media platforms enable users to conduct effective crowdfunding campaigns through processes similar to token sales. They also facilitate user-to-user financial transactions using the native cryptocurrency.
Trends shows how Blockchain is changing Social Media
Blockchain technology is currently disrupting various industries, and social media is one that is likely to experience the ramifications of this disruption. Businesses using social media to establish their brands, such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are soon to realize that all of the investment may have been for nothing. When blockchain technology alters, the platforms used by consumers and companies along with the means of networking will undergo an undeniable upheaval.
If you want to prepare your company for the future blockchain-enabled social network marketing, there are certain trends that you need to track closely:
- An Increased Interest in Verified Online Identities: With an increase in ‘bot problems’ within the social media platform industry, such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, companies are now searching for customer outreach platforms where they are able to increase marketing return on investment or ROI. The ability to engage with customers who have their identities verified using blockchain technology and smart contracts is attractive to company owners who do not want to market in the ‘black hole’ of social media; thereby, being vulnerable to fraudulent pay per click or PPC ad impressions.
- Verification of Marketplaces: Similar to the verification of identifies and its influence on blockchain-enabled social platforms, the verification of marketplaces is a trending topic as well. Virtual marketplaces are areas used to grow specific company needs and interact with like-minded companies or vendors. As blockchain technology becomes more prominent and mainstream, marketplace verification will increase a company’s potential for growth. The ability to market to verified vendors or companies will make marketing simpler as they will know what you are selling; thereby, reducing all marketing efforts while improving the time for ROI.
- Enticing Combination of Cryptocurrencies and Blockchain Technology: Blockchain technology and cryptocurrency is an exciting combination when placed on social media networking platforms as it is the future of these platforms suggests April Gilmore of ClickFirst. An ability to earn small amounts of cryptocurrency for online activities can attract users to platforms where contributions to the platform growth are rewarded. For example, if you consider the amount of time you spend on current social media platforms, then imagine if each post you make earns you a small amount of Bitcoin. This type of coded social media network is intriguing.
- Cryptocurrency and Blockchain Collectibles Influence the Future of Social Media: The fourth trend is the combination of cryptocurrency collectibles and blockchain technology and how it influences future social media usage. There is a growing interest in the cryptocurrency collectible industry, with early influencers including CryptoKitties raising millions of dollars for investor funding.
- Blockchain Technology Influences the Presence of Fake Content: Blockchain technology with its smart contracts can influence the use of fake content. In today’s social media platforms, it is easy for posts to become flooded with fake content from spambots. Using blockchain technology, social media networks of the future will have present content distribution according to verified information and traceable data spread. This ability to block fake content with the contributors is very exciting for brand builders and marketers.
What Blockchain can do in Social Media?
Blockchain has gained increasing popularity over the past year. Having begun as the technology behind cryptocurrency exchanges, it has now shown promise in almost every other sector of the economy as it’s a secure, reliable and tamper-proof way of recording transactions and exchanging data:
- Blockchain helps with Verification of Information and News: A blockchain distributed ledger system can work to prevent false accounts and fake news in the first place. Verifying identities, verifying information, and data that has been posted, etc. are all things that blockchain holds the promise to do. For instance, the 0xcert protocol provides a framework for developers to build powerful decentralized apps (DApps), enabling everyone to easily authenticate and manage their digital or real-world assets (such as original content, ID, university degree, in-game item or a house) on the blockchain. This can also help with gathering and verifying all types of data, including news and other information shared online.
- Blockchain can create better User Control Mechanisms: Social media platforms collect a huge amount of data. Every time an account holder posts; every time an account holder likes or shares a post of another; every time an account holder opens an ad on the platform; and even every time an account holder searches the web and accesses other websites, the data makes its way to their profile or homepage. This is why we see so many ads in our newsfeed on Facebook.
- Blockchain enables Social Media-based Crowdfunding and improves Peer-to-Peer Sales: First, there is no doubting the emerging popularity of crowdfunding to help startups grow and to raise money for charitable causes. Blockchain-powered crowdfunding offers tons of advantages, including privacy and transparency. According to MF Chain, ICOs are built to protect investors’ private information while complying with know your customer (KYC) and anti-money laundering (AML) regulations, plus the blockchain ledger they run on “remain reliable records because of the settled information located in computers all over the world.” When you consider that tech startups have raised 1.3 billion dollars from initial coin offerings, the potential for using blockchain-enabled social networks as crowdfunding platforms becomes clear. So does the potential to improve peer-to-peer sales on these platforms. Simply put, the infrastructure to make and accept payments, to track contracts, and conduct user verification would already be in place. There would be no need to source out and implement any external payment or verification solutions.
Use-Cases of Blockchain for Social Media
- Removing the User as the Product: We know that social media allows centralized overseers, such as Facebook headquarters, to hold, access, and disseminate the content we post on our social profiles, sharing it with advertisers or whoever they please. By replacing centralized strongholds of endless user data with a distributed network of storage, the idea is that no central authority will have the capacity to use our information for their own purposes, essentially freeing social media users from their current status as products.
- Better Control over Content: A somewhat disturbing story broke in 2014 that highlighted the idea that users on social media platforms often become little more than guinea pigs for the tech overlords. In June of that year, it was revealed that Facebook had intentionally manipulated more than 689,000 users’ news feeds in order to elicit an emotional response. Because we consent to give life, limb, and our sanity over to the corporate world in the many Terms of Agreement we agree to without second thought, we essentially set ourselves up to be manipulated — and in the case of Facebook, that’s precisely what occurred. By adjusting the number of positive or negative news stories that appeared in the feeds of more than half a million randomly selected users, The Social Network was able to gain insight into how emotional responses can be spread throughout social media.
- Improved Security: There are some people who see no limit to how far social media platforms will go to find out more about you. Facebook has denied allegations that their app can use your phone’s microphone to eavesdrop on your conversations. However, that has not stopped the Internet from running wild with concerns that phones, and those behind the apps, could be listening in at any given moment. Considering that several articles have confirmed the ability of apps to access your microphone, we have all seen the pop-up notification asking whether an app can be granted permission to do just that, it seems that there may be a fair reason for concern or at least skepticism.
- Expanding and Protecting Freedom of Speech: For those who wish to express themselves freely, such as those fighting against corrupt and oppressive regimes, the slew of apps that claim to offer end-to-end encryption — WhatsApp, iMessage, etc. still produce metadata that third parties can use to determine, among other things, who sent and received a message. Blockchain alternatives to these platforms remove the aspect of user accounts so that metadata cannot be tied to any single person, and the metadata itself is spread across a single decentralized network. This affords the great possibility for those who require true anonymity to fight a good fight.
- In-App Payments: Social networks continue to explore how to keep users on their platforms continuously. One of the ways they have begun to pursue this goal is by developing in-app means of payment so that users can order a pizza, shop online, or pay a friend back without ever leaving the social platform. In May 2018, Instagram announced that it was testing a new in-app payment structure that asked users to provide their payment information to the app, and claimed to ensure that security would be guaranteed through the issuance of a PIN number. Snapchat was making a similar foray into the in-app payment game but apparently decided that the idea was either not viable or more trouble than it’s worth because, in July 2018, it was announced that the disappearing video messaging app was canning the venture. Skype, Apple, and Facebook have all tried their hand at in-app payments, to varying degrees of success.
- Providing Compensation for Popular Posts and Influencers: These days, everybody wants to be a YouTube star or Twitter Pied Piper. Taking a quick accounting of the most successful personalities populating social platforms, it’s not difficult to see why Joe Blow has big dreams of getting rich off of the gram. Daniel Middleton, the most successful YouTube personality of 2018, racked up $16.5 million in a single year off the back of his 19.5 million subscribers. YouTube is known for compensating its most popular influencers based upon the number of interactions with its content. Interestingly, the same model has not been adopted by Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat, and it’s fair to believe that this limits the potential of the networks to tease out regular content from the most valuable personalities. While there is an inherent value to gaining followers, a model that tracks user interactions using blockchain ledgers could provide stronger metrics for fair compensation, and smart contracts could automatically pay influencers based on the popularity of their posts and interactions.
- Authenticating Legitimacy of Content: The rise of “fake news” has led us to question everything we thought we knew about media credibility and the truth. And it’s no longer the case that a news outlet’s name is enough to engender trust. According to Politico, more than three-quarters of American respondents — 77%, to be specific — believe that major media outlets report what can be qualified as “fake news.” The largest-ever study dedicated to the examination of fake news was conducted by MIT, and it reinforced the public’s skepticism toward what they read in both traditional and alternative news sources. In studying roughly 126,000 stories tweeted by 3 million users over a span of more than ten years, researchers from America’s premier technical university found that false news reaches more people, reaches deeper into Twitter, and spreads at a much faster rate than accurate stories. In short, sensationalism rules.
- Freedom to Access Information: The ability to pen content in oppressive nations is an uphill battle, but guards against fair access to content are perhaps even more detrimental to those living restricted intellectual lives. There is no shortage of nations implementing heavy-handed tactics to restrict their people’s access to the Internet. While some may be surprised to learn that the top ten nations with the harshest Internet censorship include the likes of China, Ethiopia, Vietnam, and Myanmar, it should come as no shock that North Korea tops the list. Though many North Koreans have access to smartphones, the vast majority are connected to KoryoLink, a virtually monopolized telecom provider that is subject to direct oversight by the government.
- Verified Marketplaces: The ability for marketers and businesses to home in on audiences that have interests and predilections that make them more likely to take action is invaluable. Online marketplaces come in many shapes and forms, but often they are cluttered with goods and services that have little to no value to the consumer, with no real means to authenticate the veracity of a seller’s claims, or the sellers themselves. Even with these inefficiencies, $1.55 trillion was spent globally in the top 75 online marketplaces in 2017. That figure was bolstered by a 34% increase in gross merchandise sales over the previous year. The most successful online marketplace of all, Amazon, boasts 310 million active customers who buy over 353 million products each year. But even Amazon has its limitations, with a lack of specialty and customized products, making it the ideal online shopping destination for most household and hobbyist needs but not for clothing and other items that would appeal to niche audiences.
- Attracting Users with In-App Tokens: Even with a generation of young people raised with their faces perpetually in front of cameras, smartphones, and laptops, social media has proven vulnerable to dips in usage, and its long-term popularity is no guarantee. A prime demographic of social media users, those aged 12 to 34, saw a significant decline of 12% in their social media usage in the last two years. While Snapchat use was up 10% among the same demo and Instagram use increased by 4%, these trends are not certain to continue into the future, especially if user bases are taken for granted and platforms are not able to innovate, eventually becoming stale. These platform hosts have to be aware of a phenomenon known as “social media detox.” As we become more aware of how social media has impacted our lives, we may be more willing to overcome its strong psychological pull. And awareness is rising — a survey of 5,000 students in grades 9 to 11 found that nearly two-thirds of respondents felt their well-being was negatively impacted by social media, and wouldn’t care if it had never been ever invented.
- Verifying Online Identities: The prevalence of fake bots on social media has been referred to as a “dirty, open secret,” and the New York Times even alluded to the bot sale and creation game as “social media’s black market,” a “cottage industry” by which celebrities are all too willing to artificially boost their perceived popularity. One American company, Devumi, has made their bones peddling bot accounts, drawing on their store of 3.5 million automated accounts to provide more than 200 million Twitter followers to paying customers, according to an NYT investigation. This fundamental deception is unequivocally negative, and some innovators are seeking solutions to the problem through the blockchain. The blockchain requires a real personality and employs identity authentication techniques that are meant, in part, to weed out bots.
Top Blockchain Social Networks
- Steemit: Pioneers in this field, and built on top of the Steem blockchain, Steemit is one of the most popular blockchain social networks of all time. In terms of functionality, the platform has elements similar to Facebook and Reddit. Based on the engagement, and ‘upvotes’ on content, the steem system automatically distributes rewards to the creator in Smart Media Tokens (SMT). According to Steem Stats, users on this platform have earned up to $22 million for their content. Moreover, the Steemit whitepaper promised a staggering 6 million transactions per second. Steemit is best suited for writers and content creators, who want to monetize their content.
- Diaspora*: With millions of users, Diaspora* is another popular blockchain social media platform. It is an “online social world where you are in control,” and it allows users to join, host, and interact in pods of their choice. Moreover, users in the Diaspora* ‘community,’ as they call it, have the option to follow hashtags, just like on the traditional social media platforms.
- Minds: This zero-censorship network is one of those few revolutionary digital platforms where the user owns absolutely all of their data. Moreover, the platform is fully open-source, offering users with heightened flexibility and enabling them to leverage the platform entirely in sync with their specific needs. Also, in general, the platform provides all of the now-popular features of applications such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and more. Being a proponent of freedom of speech and expression, the platform enjoys a rapidly growing popularity. Consequently, its user base has already accumulated over 2 million.
- All.me: It is a one-of-its-kind blockchain social media platform, in the sense that it offers full scape social network functionality, coupled with a revenue system. A multi-layered application, All.me is based on four major components:
- meNetwork – It is the All.me’s core social media platform, which allows users to interact over a distributed network. In terms of content, this social media is quite like Instagram or Pinterest, where users usually post images.
- meMarket – It is a distributed marketplace that allows users to sell products on their profile or buy items from their newsfeed, in exchange for the ME token.
- mePay – An integral part of the All.me network is the in-built payment protocol, which allows users to transfer funds for commerce, as well as, for other purposes.
- meToken – It is the network’s native cryptocurrency, which the users have to use for transactions on the platform.
- Earn: Hosted on Coinbase, users allow to earn Bitcoin by completing microtasks. Upon creating a profile, users can join ‘lists’ based on their skill set, and can also receive paid messages. Primarily, the Earn network utilizes a paid e-mail system that is meant to increase the users’ chances of earning. In essence, this platform may be compared to LinkedIn.
Challenges to Blockchain Implementation in Social Media
Some of the pertinent obstacles to the growth of these platforms are similar to those of the underlying technology itself, such as scalability that the blockchain community is yet to overcome. Let’s see the challenges:
- Misuse of Freedom: The risks of absolute freedom, as offered by these non-censored platforms, are as pertinent as its benefits. Allowing users to post anything and everything they want to, also means that they can post content which is potentially harmful or degrading for others. Moreover, the anonymity and the reliance upon user votes opens the doors for miscreants planning to hijack a platform. In this, a user can post illegal or hateful content, and gather several users to support the same. Such content can neither be deleted nor monitored, given the blockchain’s essential immutability.
- Inadequate Decentralization: Many Blockchain Social Media platforms don’t meet their promise of decentralization. Primarily, this is because achieving absolute decentralization is not easy. Not at least with the present technological know-how.
Companies using Blockchain in Social Media
- Killi: Helping users get compensated for use of their data.
- DTube: Video platform built on the Steem blockchain designed to reduce central control of content distribution.
- SoMee: Blockchain-powered social network using blockchain to cryptographically secure user data.
- Steemit: Uses a native currency to reward users for influence, along with serving as the transaction layer for the platform. Similar to Reddit, Steemit recognizes popular content in a thread and rewards high performing content with their token.
- SocialX: An app with completed ICO aiming to improve social and in-app payment structures.
- Indorse: Blockchain-powered platform like LinkedIn, providing a better career marketplace.
- YouNow: YouNow is an app from the Props Project using tokens to incentivize participation.
Many social media users are not aware of how their privacy and even their income potential may be jeopardized by current practices. However, this entire system could be dramatically improved for the users’ experience when blockchain technology is incorporated into social media platforms.
Thus, a decentralized approach to social networking can ensure better privacy, as well as the potential to do more with smart apps and contracts, as well as e-commerce and crowdfunding transactions.