Social platforms have exploded in popularity over the past decade and are now a cornerstone in our daily interactions. People around the globe use these networks to share information with each other and mutually create value. That’s the theory, anyway. Many social networks are plagued by trolls, fake news that spreads like wildfire, and antisocial interactions between users.
Currently, the main objective of social media providers is to attract more users to their platform. According to Metcalfe's law, the value of a social platform is proportional to the square of the number of users contributing to it. However, this takes the focus away from the most important aspect of a social platform: building a healthy community that actively produces high-quality content.
Modern social platforms are broken
There is currently no focus on ensuring the quality of user-generated content shared on today’s social platforms. Lack of regulation results in a marked decrease in quality content over time. This is to be expected since there is no clear way to control the quality of content in a centralized architecture once a large number of users are active. The situation is akin to a city or a country with no law-enforcement agencies.
As an example, take fake news posted on social media that has been known to cause social discord, may have influenced election results, and even may result in rioting. Cyberbullying is a major cause of concern, especially on platforms like Twitter. Politicians often use paid trolls to bully their political opponents.
Some of the most common misuses of social media platforms are: spreading fake news, posting fake pictures and doctored videos to harm someone's reputation, harassment through paid trolls, posting abusive posts, creating fake accounts and posting fake reviews.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. It’s about time social network providers start paying serious attention to these problems.
Social media companies should be worried
Abusive and antisocial interactions can lead to a mass exodus of users, the most valuable asset of any social media company. This can have catastrophic consequences if it’s not addressed immediately. Social networks have proven to be highly efficient mediums through which cyberattacks can be performed. This is usually done by the publication and promotion of posts with malicious scripts or links.
Many social media companies have been called out for outright content manipulation to attract more advertising revenue. The most notorious example of this is social media rating site ‘Yelp.’ Some small business owners claim that this platform is purposely manipulating reviews to generate more revenue from ads. This claim has even been brought to court.
Social media firms urgently need to realize that we live in an era where the value of a network is not only determined by the number of active users, but also by the quality and trustworthiness of the produced content. According to data scientist Professor Jeff Salz:
"Data quality is a subset of the larger challenge of ensuring that the results of the analysis are accurate or described in an accurate way."
Some social media companies have started taking corrective action. For instance, Twitter has introduced new privacy features on its platform to help users fight spam and abuse. However, it's important to note that the line between freedom of speech and social media misuse is often blurry.
Social media provides an open and distributed platform where users can freely express themselves - at least to a certain degree. However, users of today’s social networks have no incentive to provide quality content, since they don’t benefit from it in any way. There is no reward for providing useful content and there is no penalty for being abusive. This is by far the biggest issue with existing social media platforms.
Blockchain might be the answer
The Blockchain is a natural solution to the challenges faced by social networks today, since it provides a decentralized and trusted framework. There is no need to impose any external regulation since it is inherently self-regulatory. It is a peer-to-peer distributed network in which all digital events are recorded in a public ledger through a consensus of the majority of participants.
Three important characteristics of Blockchain are: immutability, provenance and distributed consensus. The Blockchain is essentially a distributed database in which all records are cryptographically linked to each other. It is not possible to change a record without changing all subsequent records. Additionally, all entries are digitally signed and thus the source of each digital event is public.
The next big question is what assets of a social network need to be cryptographically protected. A possible answer is all user-generated content; this includes but is not limited to posts, comments, reviews, photos, and videos. However, the most important asset is social reputation. This is an area in which today’s social networks are horribly failing. An example is the practice of purchasing fake followers on social networks like Twitter. This has proven to be a simple yet highly effective strategy to fraudulently boost one’s online reputation.
There are three main ways to ensure the quality of social media content: peer review, social cryptocurrency and recording of events on the Blockchain.
Peer review can be an effective tool to self-regulate behavior in a social network. One good example is LinkedIn. People who post on that platform are usually quite reasonable, since it is important for them to maintain a good professional reputation. Peer reviews could be used to perform social ratings of a network’s participants. This data could then be made available to smart contracts, which would use it to rate users. Other users would have the option to automatically block users below a certain ‘rating.’
Social reputation can also be used to provide financial incentives. A public Blockchain like Ethereum’s can be used to financially reward social network participants for their contributions. This is a radically different approach to existing models, in which social media firms are the sole beneficiaries of user-generated content. In this model, a portion of the ad revenue is shared with the users for creating quality content.
According to Gaurang Torvekar, CTO & Co-founder at Indorse, pairing the Ethereum Blockchain with other emerging technologies like payment channels and IPFS will lead to the next social media revolution.
"Combining the Ethereum Blockchain with payment channels opens up a gamut of features and autonomous abilities, aligned with financial incentives. Smart contracts paired with payment channels provide the computation and logic layer upon which the core engine of such a platform can be built."
Blockchain also makes it possible to maintain an indelible record of all digital events in a social media environment. This implies that a user can't simply delete an inappropriate post once he has published it. Other users will always be able to trace a post to a certain user.
Into the future
Blockchain-based social networks have seen a massive jump in popularity in the past months. A number of very successful ICOs have already been launched in this space. But only significant user adoption and time will decide whether they (or others) will develop into the Blockchain-based social media platforms we all want and deserve.