Why There's A Rush To Build A Social Media Platform On The Blockchain

Blockchain is the generic term for a particular decentralized approach to storing and accessing information online. The process is complex and requires a network of computers (via IBM), but, in the most basic sense, blockchain scatters information across a network, then encrypts it so that only the whole network working together can read it. In theory, that should give users fast and transparent access and stop bad actors from messing with stored information. Better yet, it's currently impossible to hack blockchain from the outside. 

Currently, the best-known applications of blockchain are cryptocurrency and NFTs; crypto is blockchain as applied to money and NFTs are blockchain as applied to art. Many people are currently looking for the next "blockchain as applied to X." As TechCrunch points out, social media data is a very popular potentiality. Blockchain's first and foremost offer to the marketplace is security; it is fundamentally a security protocol, a new way to control encryption of and access to important information. Social media companies — built as they are on a complex, quickly changing set of standards for sharing information versus protecting it — often encounter security problems. Blockchain could constitute a solution.

A new solution for an old problem?

Information security is a major headache for otherwise successful social media giants. Major breaches happen far too often, potentially compromising millions of people at a time. Firewall Times lists 18 major data breaches that have affected Facebook since 2007. Twitter's record isn't much better. The social media industry necessarily exists on the horns of a trilemma: social networks want their users to share data freely, to collect and sell user data in a proprietary fashion, and also to lock both datasets away from anyone who hasn't paid, either in currency or monetizable attention. It's not an easy equation to balance.

That being the case, it's no surprise that major social media companies either have tried or are trying blockchain-based security solutions. Facebook did its unsuccessful best with Libra, its own in-house cryptocurrency. Twitter is still investing money and brainpower in BlueSky. It makes perfect sense that Facebook, Twitter, and sundry supercompanies are checking out blockchain; where security is concerned, they need all the help they can get. However, some smaller companies are thinking of even bigger solutions.

Seeking security on the global social network

As far as these new startups are concerned, blockchain isn't just a security solution: it's a paradigm shift. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and every other social network based on content creation depends on a core body of content to which they can sell access. That's their business model. As the Oxford Internet Institute points out, blockchain may make that model untenable. Blockchain has no single major archive. Data is secured in different places across the network and can't be decoded without access to the whole thing. Blockchain-based startups work with that in mind.

DSCVR (pronounced "discover) is built on tokens, data attached to a user's online identity that reflects a positive impact in the DSCVR community. Social tokens come from other users upvoting content, while Service tokens are granted for work on behalf of the DSCVR platform. DSCVR is governed by systemwide votes: 50% Social, 50% Service. Peepeth, a Twitter analog, is one of many apps on the blockchain for the Ethereum cryptocurrency. Notably, it allows users only one Ens (Peepeth's version of a "like") per day to encourage considered, deliberate engagement. Other decentralized apps built on the Ethereum standard include Minds, a Facebook/LinkedIn replacement, and Mirror, a Medium-style free writing platform that mints finished posts as NFTs readers can pay for in Ethereum.

Unlike DSCVR and Peepeth, which are specific decentralized apps, DeSo is a whole blockchain dedicated specifically to social media applications. Its offer is, quoting its website, "to scale decentralized social applications to one billion users." All of these applications claim to solve the problem of informational security, or infosec, as it relates to social media content. Their offer is a completely new approach to securing online information.

Decentralization both is and isn't the future

As noted above, DeSo claims to be a tool to take a blockchain-based social network to one billion users. It's worth noting that DeSo has never actually done that. In fact, no decentralized social media project has yet come near that number. In terms of funding and customer base, none of these startups compare to Twitter, Facebook, or other established brands. 

Instead, users and creators see blockchain social networks as the first step toward web3, a safer, less centralized, more user-directed approach to online interaction. For them, blockchain is a vital first step toward users gaining more control over what they create and better protection against online bad actors. By contrast, stakeholders in conventional social networks see blockchain as a fad. Regardless, the possibilities of blockchain as applied to social networking are sufficiently fertile and interesting that people are investing and infrastructure is being built.