As the social media landscape changes rapidly with current events, the question of decentralization becomes more relevant.
The world of digital communications is not static. As social media has become a mainstay in our lives, the way we interact with one another online has slowly transformed into the molding of ‘Big Tech’. However, is life under these tech giants a threat to thriving digital independence?
The good, the bad, and the centralized
Recently, the conflict in Ukraine has shown social media to be a powerful but problematic tool. Many call this the first, “social media war.” Previously, conflicts like the US-Vietnam War took the label of the first, “television war.”
On the one hand, social media has been used to bolster aid efforts and raise awareness of events. However it has also provided a skewed version of reality due to things such as deep fakes and rapid misinformation spread.
The centralization of many of the major social media outlets has allowed for easier censorship of ideas and individuals. Naturally, moves like this limit the free speech and expression many of these platforms initially encourage.
In addition to the conflict, the recent news of Elon Musk’s Twitter purchase raised eyebrows.
Musk claims a big motivation was to encourage free speech on the platform. On the other hand, critics are wary of the privatization of the platform by the single richest person in the world. In reality, whether it is a single man or the cabal of “Big Tech”, these platforms are centralized monopolies of our digital realities.
Who is Big Tech?
There are five major names under the guise of ‘Big Tech’. This includes Alphabet (Google), Amazon, Apple, Meta (Facebook), and Microsoft. These companies have a disproportionate influence over the way the entire world functions. Their technology underlies many of the most essential systems in our modern societies.
Most of the major social media platforms, from Facebook and Instagram, to YouTube and Twitter have a connection with one of these companies. They hold the key to our data, ideas, and identities.
What is decentralized social media?
If decentralization provides solutions to the problems of centralized finance and information storing, surely it can troubleshoot those of centralized social media.
First it’s important to understand what decentralized social media is exactly and how it differs from traditional social media platforms. Alex Siman, founder of Subsocial spoke of an open protocol for decentralized social networks and marketplaces, to better understand these differences.
Decentralized vs centralized: Main differences
At the very basic level, decentralized social networks run via independently operated and verified servers on a blockchain. This is in contrast to standard social networks, which run on centralized servers owned by a single business entity. Therefore, users and founders of decentralized social networks have both more control and autonomy.
Siman said other major differences, and benefits, of decentralized social media include, “open source algorithms, monetization without middlemen, resistance to censorship, less bots and spam, and user-owned social graphs.”
Censorship vs Moderation
The decentralization of online spaces with radical ideas and viewpoints could be a concern. However, it’s important to note that a decentralized social media platform doesn’t automatically equal total anarchy and extremists. In a TED Talk, days before his Twitter acquisition, Musk said online discourse should be “as free as reasonably possible”. A way to achieve this is the right balance of moderation.
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