Following Vitalik Buterin’s call for more social application use cases on Ethereum earlier this summer, multiple crypto companies voiced intentions to build decentralized versions of mainstream social networks like Twitter. However, to create and view crypto-centered social platforms as merely decentralized versions of Twitter is shortsighted. The moral and technical implications of creating truly decentralized social networks that abide by Web 3.0 principles extend far beyond what the idea of “decentralized Twitter” currently encompasses.
Beyond mere decentralization, there are four key themes central to the idea of crypto social development: private communication and censorship resistance, moderation, decentralized governance, and secure and decentralized money.
Private communication and censorship resistance
Privacy is a human right, yet this right is becoming increasingly violated by centralized Big Tech companies who are financially incentivized to collect, store and monetize the data of their users. In Facebook’s Q2 earnings report earlier this year, it was reported the company had generated $28.6 billion in advertising revenue alone. As the adage goes, “If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product,” and it’s time to redesign the incentives at play in existing social networks. Currently, platforms are motivated to collect private information from users to get paid by advertisers. With the privacy and encryption of crypto social networks, this paradigm is challenged since identifiable personal information is not nearly as accessible — if at all — to advertisers.
At the core of any crypto social network should be the ability to freely communicate and organize, divested from centralized, corporate oversight. In recent years, concerns over online censorship have mounted, a notable example being when Discord banned the r/WallStreetBets server amid the GameStop short squeeze, reportedly due to concerns about hateful content being posted in the community. Unlike centralized Web 2.0 platforms, such as Discord, decentralized social networks remove choke points for censorship. If nobody controls the network servers, then not one single person or entity can control and censor content. While this combats censorship, it also presents a unique challenge: moderation.
The idea of moderation poses a catch-22 to crypto social communities. On one hand, crypto social’s Web 3.0 values are about creating democratized applications free from censorship and prying oversight. On the other hand, communities should be able to protect themselves from spam attacks and malicious actors. Balancing moderation with the need for privacy, decentralization and censorship resistance is a complex consideration without a clear-cut solution.
The bottom line is that communities — not a third-party — should have control over the content that is present in their spaces. Types of engagement vary from community to community, as does the classification of “good” versus “bad” content. How good information is shared and how bad information is curated ultimately defines the value of the community itself, and it is important to approach moderation in a manner that cannot be hijacked or manipulated.
One path forward to prevent spam is for communities to implement chat features using token-based permissions. With this method, holding specific tokens can grant members access to posting, viewing and/or administrative permissions in a given community. To preserve the integrity of the tokens, smart contracts can be implemented to control the transferability and permissions of each newly minted token. This decentralized system ensures that moderation is conducted in a manner that does not allow for the subjectivity of a standalone individual to control curation.
The problem with Web 2.0 social networks is that centralization inherently bars communities from becoming self-governed and self-regulated. The success of a social network should mean the success of the social network as a whole — not the success of a single founder at the expense of the social network. This is the problem with the existing order of centralized social networks: The decisions of a standalone individual or entity control the network’s evolution and fate.
One way to address this flaw and establish decentralized governance is through the use of community money. By holding governance tokens, individual community members are given the power to vote on decisions that shape the community’s future. The collective nature of this democratized voting system has the power to safeguard the community from falling victim to the whims of corporate bureaucracy. With decentralized governance, users are given a voice to effect change.
Secure and decentralized money
Decentralization, alone, cannot ensure the longevity and self-sustainability of crypto social networks. The integration of token-based incentives offers a unique avenue for users to uphold and navigate social network communities. By issuing tokens to users, individual users become like shareholders of the platform, providing an incentive to participate in and contribute to the network’s growth.
When each user maintains a balance of tokens, they are then able to transact on their terms in a peer-to-peer manner, in essence contributing to the network’s economy autonomously. The use cases for these tokens are endless — from voting on proposals to crowdfunding an initiative to sending encrypted messages — and offer support for the community’s long-term growth.
With decentralized social networks gaining interest and momentum, these four key themes demonstrate that there are far more considerations at stake when designing new social networks than merely the idea of decentralization. What we need are more purpose-driven platforms that champion the intellectual and financial sovereignty of users — not surface-level buzzwords. Despite grey areas in how to attain this goal, the beauty of decentralized social networking is that the community has the opportunity to shape what the future of social networking looks like.
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