Like it or not, social media is here, and it’s here to stay. More than half of the world’s population is now a member of one social media website or another. Billions of accounts, billions of passwords, billions of opinions, and a seemingly infinite amount of data passing through the internet every day. With all of that processing power (both human and digital), some innovative coders have been doing interesting work combining social media with cryptocurrency and the blockchain. Has it taken off yet? Let’s explore.
Why are social media platforms and the blockchain a match made in heaven?
You could simplify the answer down to three things: data, privacy, and security. With data breaches like Cambridge Analytica, people are more concerned than ever about their personal data and where it could end up (as well as which malevolent forces might later use it against them). The blockchain offers more traceability, history, and data management. Whatever happens, actions can be tracked and investigated, whilst at the same time, decentralizing information gives social media users control over their data instead of allowing it to be stored somewhere and commodified.
Applications, smart contracts, and cryptocurrencies are built on this blockchain technology because it is so secure and versatile, as well as allowing for actions that other platforms struggle to handle, such as internal currencies, end-to-end encryption, rewards, and crowdfunding.
Let’s summarise the two things that we’ve just said into a more concise version of the problems that crypto-based social media solves:
- Privacy, security, and personal data concerns
- The consolidation of power by those controlling the platforms
What most social media users forget when enjoying their social apps is that they are not the consumer, they are the product. The main profitable aspect of social media is the ability to create data sets which can be sold for advertising, making the user the commodity that is being sold. In this sense, data is gold, and those who control the data have also found that it’s easy to control and manipulate those who use the platform.
Blockchain-based social media websites work in a peer-to-peer fashion, stopping advertisers from following you around the internet with their marketing campaigns. Instead, every action is a hash, and each hash is stored in a log – it moves only in one direction and is encrypted so that the previous information can’t be taken and commodified.
It must be considered where the limits of moderation lie; if a traditional social media website has access to every interaction, every click, and every message, is this more, or less dangerous than having access to none? No moderation creates a wild west website where bad things can also happen (just think of the Dark Web). Total moderation creates a lack of free speech. To two ideologies will always fight one another in different arenas.
So, which are the social media sites built on crypto?
They are the pioneers of this concept of building a social network on top of a blockchain, and they did a great job, introducing a platform for writers and content creators that functions like Reddit and Facebook but allows users to be financially rewarded for quality content in the form of their SMT token. Despite being around for a few years, Steemit has struggled to become a household name and get widespread adoption, so their active user base is under 50,000 a month. Their stats suggest that users have earned well over $20m collectively.
Rather than being a single social media platform or network, Society2 is working on the IOTA Tangle blockchain to bring you one singular digital identity. This means that with your one identity, you have control over your privacy, you can choose whether to see ads (and can receive micropayments for doing so) and essentially your account is portable from site to site. They are still in development, but it’s exciting to see what they will deliver, especially for developers who will be able to build platforms on top of their technology.
Voice is a direct competitor to Steemit that as of September 2020 is still in the early access/beta testing stage, but the signs are good. This new social network is built on the EOS blockchain and is actually being developed by most of the same development team. The idea is to focus on distributing crypto rewards to content creators, quality commentators, and transparency. Wait, transparency? Isn’t that what all the competitors are trying to avoid? Technically yes, so Voice wants to empower real social media users and apply their technology to squashing bots, fake news, and manipulation by making the whole platform accountable and verifiable.
Diaspora* has many of the looks and feels of a social media network, but it’s based on different principles. For Twitter users, transitioning to this site would be easier, perhaps, than for Facebook users, as the following of hashtags is quite a major part of the site. This social media site allows users to split their updates and contributions into different segments of their life, from work friends to family, so that your colleagues don’t see baby pictures and your family don’t see you talking about business meetings. The concept is good and there are currently almost 700,000 users; it was also part-funded by a philanthropic donation from Zuckerberg, who loved the idea. The best feature is probably pods, where experts can host a discussion on their own server space and allow people to join and take part.
Hive wants to give users more privacy and a greater share of the ad revenue than other blockchain-based social networks. Their platform is all about content discovery on top of a beautiful UX, as well as about allowing users to be whoever they want to be. Their ‘spaces’ feature looks like it has a great deal of potential to engage current and future users. Already over 100,000 people are actively using the app.
Minds is a website, mobile app, and desktop app. It’s an ultra-private, free, and open-source social media network that has already welcomed over 2.5 million members. With privacy, comes problems, as they have found out. Each time there is a political uprising somewhere in the world, membership grows in that country, as it’s easier to talk about governments, politicians, and injustice without the fear of being spied on. This is especially true for a country like Vietnam and Thailand where the government can heavily persecute dissenters. It’s also true for small hate groups on the far right, who have reportedly found Minds to be a perfect place to share their hate speech without being flagged.
CEO Bill Ottman Ottman has even said that he opposes removing hate speech and other harmful content because he believes it can draw greater attention to it and that he opposes ‘de-platforming’ extremists because he believes it only serves to push people towards more “other darker corners of the internet.”
Back in April 2017, memo.cash launched on the BCH network, introducing an innovative way to interact with a blockchain. It was quickly endorsed by Vitalik Buterin, the co-Founder of Ethereum. The memo.cash platform is similar to Reddit but might be even more basic and stripped back, meaning its functionality and innovation have to work hard to win and keep users.
This innovative video platform is built on top of the Steem blockchain and allows video content creators to earn cryptocurrency (Steem) for the views on their content. It looks and feels like YouTube, but with a crypto twist, also, it doesn’t have the same video content from YouTube so there is plenty of fresh material just waiting to be discovered. Unlike some of the other anti-censorship platforms, it seems to be a very positive place with bloggers and reviewers making videos, rather than extreme political groups.
Marketed under the slogan ‘Earn crypto while learning about crypto’, this platform from Coinbase is really pushing the definition of what ‘social media’ can be described as, however, we felt it was worth including. This microtask platform allows you to take courses on different cryptocurrencies and get financial rewards in exchange. It’s as simple as it sounds and some of the rewards are pretty decent, you just watch some videos, take a quiz, and cash in on the promised cryptocurrency.
This P2P web torrent video-sharing platform offers a lot of video content and some ways to monetise it through crypto. Again, it’s quite similar to YouTube, without the aesthetically pleasing feel. They are anti-censorship and rely on crowdfunding every month to survive. The platform is full of conspiracy theories, right-wing and left-wing extremism, and hate speech – it should be approached with a degree of caution.