The salient facts of the new Cambridge Analytica scandal are bad, and the optics are even worse for Facebook, which is already facing multiple battles both in legal courts and the court of public opinion. But this really is just the spilled pot of a long-boiling problem: growing discomfort within our citizen-consumer class over predatory data mining and the unaccountable shadow agencies and corporations being given access to our private lives via social networks. Big Brother has been privatized, and it may turn out to be far more dangerous than anything George Orwell predicted.
Typically, Facebook has been able to duck, dodge, juke, and jive its way out of such entanglements because of the sheer ubiquity of social media in our daily lives, the market value of the company, and its ability to manipulate public opinion. But this time is different. The company hit the politicized buzzsaw of the 2016 election, which is still grinding and sparking from accusations concerning the use of Facebook to spread propaganda (which in reality, of course, is nothing new). In other words, “Facebook’ is appearing in more and more paragraphs containing “Russia,” and in today’s climate, that is worse than a decade of privacy violations.
In Facebook’s meteoric rise, it flew too close to Trump on the wings of pilfered data.
With the #DeleteFacebook hashtag trending on social media and the Big Five — Amazon, Google, Apple, Microsoft and Facebook — growing more untrustworthy by the day, we may soon see a sea change in public sentiment toward another relevant trend with incredible momentum: peer-to-peer, blockchain-based tech apps; tools that do not harvest user data and are not part of a monopolistic predator class of Silicon Valley tech elites hobnobbing with Washington policymakers. The masses may finally be ready to adopt the ethos of decentralized social media in their lives.
There are six primary reasons why we need our social media run through the blockchain technology: distributed consensus mechanisms ensure better security and privacy; blockchain eliminates censorship and safeguards freedom of speech by anonymizing user meta-data; in a blockchain, you aren’t the product (your meta-data is not harvested for commercial gain); by eliminating a central server, users have more control over their own content; blockchain’s tokens, coins, and smart contacts make transactions, payments, and peer-to-peer commerce smoother; decentralized networks sans external payment methods mean crowdfunding for startups is much easier.
The uses of blockchain continue to grow exponentially. Current projects are to blockchain’s future potential what steam was to energy production. In other words, this is only the beginning. With that said, here is a list of 10 new blockchain projects that could become the decentralized Davids to Facebook’s Goliath:
Steemit – Steemit is a kind of decentralized Reddit where users can earn the crypto coin Steem by posting and curating content. Steemit is one of the only blockchain-based social media platforms with hundreds of thousands of mainstream users, and it is one of the best examples of blockchain-as-backend and serverless architecture. Steemit is also viewed as a gateway coin that helps people who don’t know much about cryptocurrency get involved in the blockchain ecosystem.
OnG.social – OnG social is a blockchain social media dashboard for influencers and users. It is only the second company in history to run on two blockchains — Ethereum and Wave — which makes its encryption measures more stable and secure. In fact, the infrastructure is so promising that IBM has lent its support. Like others on this list, OnG social is a decentralized network and rewards users who post content with cryptocurrency. OnG social also supports two other important crypto projects: Golem, which aims to decentralize supercomputing power, and Storj, which distributes data storing nodes.
Sola.ai – Another next-gen decentralized social network that lets users monetize their content. Powered by the Sol utility token, Sola uses artificial intelligence algorithms and user reactions to “generate revenue from advertising, user payments and partnerships.” The Sola ecosystem creates an internal market for its own community-developed apps and then splits the revenue with users. Its decentralized architecture makes it impossible to shut down, and the creators claim it is “immune to blocking and censorship.”
Mewe – Mewe is a “next-gen social network” that hashtags itself #not4sale. It is considered a possible Twitter substitute. Founded by online privacy advocate Mark Weinstein, MeWe has no ads, no censorship, and no tracking.
Obsidian – Obsidian is a possible replacement for Facebook Messenger, a proof-of-stake, Stratis-based blockchain that can bypass “cookie” censors and surveillance. The data is not used for analytics and advertising. Peter McClory, CEO of Obsidian, explains that the decentralized approach scatters the metadata across the globe. “Running a decentralized network doesn’t come for free, somebody has to pay to run the hosts,” McClory adds. “That’s why we needed a cryptocurrency that can pay rewards to node hosts so that they have a financial incentive to run decentralized messaging nodes. Which in turn takes the decentralization a step further, as this removes any financial incentive for the Company to run advertising or sell user data (if they had access to that, which they won’t).”
Nexus – Nexus is a blockchain-based social media application where users can “make deals or exchange value through cryptographically-signed and executed contracts.” The decentralized system boasts secure authentication and anonymity for users worried about censorship by a repressive government. Founder Jade Mulholland says the goal is to “eliminate all invasion of privacy that large corporations are currently performing.” Mulholland adds that “Social, our cryptocurrency, can be used to do many things on the social network, such as buying and selling in the marketplace, purchasing ad space, and donating to crowdfunding campaigns.”
Indorse – Indorse is an Ethereum blockchain-based alternative to LinkedIn that promotes a “skills economy” with its own currency. This system is vaguely similar to Steemit’s in that it rewards users with its own tokens in exchange for helping them build the platform. According to Gaurang Torvekar, CTO & co-founder at Indorse, the use of Ethereum to complement other emerging technologies could lead to a 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.”
Synereo – Synereo and its native cryptocurrency, AMP, “offer blockchain-enabled Attention Economy solutions, allowing direct and platform agnostic monetization of original content posted anywhere on the net.” Synereo’s first tool, Wildspark, allows content to be monetized via “a distributed meta-layer on top of existing media hubs and social networks, where users are incentivized to reward both creators and curators directly with AMP, without the media hub, social network – or Synereo – taking a cut.”
Akasha – Akasha aspires to be a truly revolutionary platform where anyone from artists to mathematicians can communicate without fear of censorship. With a Twitter-like interface and its own tokens, Akasha is hard to pin down, but its creator, the founder of Bitcoin Magazine, describes their mission thusly: “By fusing Ethereum with the Inter-Planetary File System, we explore the implications and applications of a permanent Web in the context of freedom of expression, creative perpetuity, and privacy for a better home of Mind.”
Leeroy.io – Leeroy is referred to as a Twitter clone that tips you. Built on the Ethereum blockchain, Leeroy requires a MetaMask install and is expensive and hard to use. However, it “represents the complete disintermediation of Twitter and the death knell of the ad-driven business model…In the future, all social networks will be like Leeroy: a public utility that lives on the Internet, which leaves users in control of their data, fairly compensates content creators for their efforts, is agnostic and unopinioned as to the data that flows on top of it, fully community-owned and governed, and built for users.”