Decentralized Social Media: Achieving Higher Security & Privacy
These days, reaching out to friends and others usually involves the use of social media sites. From sharing life updates to chatting with loved ones, connecting via social networks has become the norm. Unfortunately, so too have lack of privacy, security and the blatant selling of personal data.
For those fed up with the “take it or leave it” attitudes of popular social media platforms such as Google, Facebook, Twitter and other big tech companies, decentralized social media may be an appealing option. Unlike these “centralized” platforms, decentralized social media platforms are open-source, placing control in the hands of their users and ensuring secure data storage.
In this article, we delve into this emerging social media alternative and give you the rundown on several of the top decentralized social media networks being used today.
What Is Decentralized Social Media?
Decentralized social media is an open-source, blockchain-based alternative to traditional social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media platforms.
If you’re familiar with cryptocurrency and NFTs, then you’ve likely heard the term “decentralization” more than once. The driving force behind decentralization is blockchain technology. This technology has become increasingly popular, as it allows social media users to experience a more secure, transparent decentralized social network with no central administrator or point of control.
By utilizing blockchain technology, decentralized social media platforms are available as decentralized apps (DApps), inherently resistant to attackers, censorship and undue control. Rather than your data being held by one single entity (or multiple entities, depending on how many social media platforms you use), decentralized social media spreads your data out between several different independent nodes within the network.
Decentralized by design, blockchain technology promotes a more collaborative and democratized environment, making it and social media a match made in heaven.
How Does Decentralized Social Media Work?
Decentralized social media networks are DApps powered by smart contracts distributed on a blockchain. The smart contract code functions as the backend of these DApps and defines their logic.
While traditional social media platforms use databases for storing program code, user information, and other types of data, decentralized social media networks exist on peer-to-peer (P2P) networks comprising thousands of different nodes spread across the globe.
Unlike traditional networks, which have single points of failure and can go offline for hours at times (i.e., Facebook in October 2021), the nodal model of decentralized social networks allows them to run uninterrupted, even if some of the nodes fail.
Therefore, the most important aspect of decentralized social media is that it doesn’t run on a single server. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other big-name social media networks are all controlled by some form of central authority. This can be dangerous, increasing the risk of hacks, leaks, takeovers and more.
Decentralized social media networks, on the other hand, can consist of multiple distributed networks. In addition to minimizing the threat of attack, this allows individuals to choose which networks they want to join. Users can also create their own networks to connect with like-minded people with similar interests.
Rather than putting the decision-making power into the hands of a single entity or a few individuals, these decentralized social networks utilize a system of governance in which users can vote on possible changes and have their say in the progression of the platform.
Similar to other types of DApps using blockchain technology, many decentralized, blockchain-based social media platforms use native tokens to power monetization in the absence of advertising revenue. The tokens can be bought by users to access certain features, tip content creators, complete in-app purchases and more.
Pros of Decentralized Social Media
As you’ve already discovered, decentralized social media provides users with several advantages over traditional social networks like Facebook and Twitter. However, before deciding if it’s right for you, diving deeper into some specific benefits will help.
Since decentralized social media networks use hundreds or even thousands of different servers or “nodes” to function, the risk of network malfunction or failure due to DDoS attacks is greatly reduced. In addition to greater security, users also enjoy an added layer of anonymity and privacy, both of which are becoming harder and harder to come by when doing anything online.
Increased User Control
Decentralized social media also provides users with increased control, which is something traditional social media platforms offer little to none of. In fact, it’s one of the core concepts driving blockchain technology and today’s emerging decentralized social platforms. With decentralized social networks, users have control of their data and their experience because there’s no central authority dictating the rules.
Another key feature of decentralized social media is equitable monetization for users and community members. Unlike the imbalanced monetization schemes of traditional social media, decentralized social networks promote social earning through the use of native tokens serving as the equivalent to Bitcoin, Ethereum and other major cryptocurrencies. This could change the game for content creators.
Since decentralized social media consists of DApps running on blockchain-based networks like Ethereum’s, and is sustained by an intricate network of nodes located around the globe, decentralized social networks experience little to no outages or downtime.
No Censorship or “Middleman”
Decentralized social media also eliminates the “middleman” and gives content creators direct ownership and control of their data and content. They can also engage with followers, fans, customers and others directly, with only a smart contract standing between them.
Cons of Decentralized Social Media
Despite all of its advantages, decentralized social media isn’t perfect. Like other types of technology, it has its drawbacks.
Not As User-Friendly
Decentralized social networks are generally less user-friendly than larger traditional social platforms. This can be challenging for users, and it’s a hurdle many decentralized platforms must overcome before achieving widespread adoption. Often, what makes or breaks an app’s success is the simplicity of its interface. For the most part, decentralized social media apps built on blockchain technology miss the mark in this regard.
New Security Threats
With decentralized platforms also come new security threats. Not only do decentralized networks allow just about anyone to join and contribute anonymously, but they also use public key cryptography for account security, which is something most users find difficult to manage. Creating a social media DApp that’s both easy to use and cryptographically secure can be challenging at best.
With years of operation and feedback from millions of community members, existing social platforms have perfected their interfaces. The same cannot be said of decentralized networks, which continues to hamper their growth in the immediate future. The easier they become to use, the more widespread their usage will become.
Decentralized Social Media vs. Traditional Social Media
Traditional and decentralized social media networks both utilize some form of social graph, which is a social network model that maps everyone using a platform as well as their relationships with others. This back-end coding allows users to communicate with one another on the front end of the platform.
Both traditional and decentralized social platforms allow you to post and share content, add comments, use hashtags and communicate with others. However, decentralized social platforms tend to have much less appealing and user-friendly UI than their more mature counterparts.
Traditional social media companies are completely centralized and self-contained. In addition to owning and operating their data servers, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other traditional social media platforms also own and control all of the content that’s posted on their sites — including yours.
Decentralized platforms, on the other hand, live on public blockchains. As advocates for privacy and freedom of speech, they allow anyone (for the most part), anywhere to curate a feed, operate a node or create an app.
Decentralization and Monetization
Rather than existing on a single server or stack, decentralized social media networks live on peer-to-peer networks made up of thousands of nodes located all across the globe. Unlike traditional social media platforms, there is no potential single point of failure. Even if several nodes fail, a decentralized social network will run uninterrupted, with virtually zero risk of an outage or failure.
Decentralized social platforms also allow you to be as private or public as you like. While most traditional networks require verification of a legitimate phone number, email address or other form of personally identifiable information, decentralized platforms require no such thing. This makes them particularly attractive to those concerned with their online privacy and controlling their anonymity.
All that said, one of the biggest differences between the two social media types and a unique selling position for many is the fact that decentralized platforms allow creators to monetize their content and earn native tokens equivalent to cryptocurrencies. Considering the growing demand for crypto in exchange for products, decentralized social networks seem poised for both short- and long-term growth.
Best Decentralized Social Media Platforms
Despite their relatively brief existence to date, there are dozens of decentralized social media platforms out there, each one serving a specific function for a targeted user group. Across this spectrum, some of the most popular decentralized social media networks include the following.
Mastodon is a popular, well-known alternative to Twitter. Since its release in 2016, this decentralized social media platform has amassed nearly five million users in search of free, open-source software solutions.
While similar to Twitter in several ways, Mastodon isn’t a standalone website like its centralized counterpart. Instead, it consists of thousands of different communities, operated by thousands of different individuals and organizations to provide a seamless social networking experience.
Mastodon has been designed to connect users with other like-minded individuals. You can do just that by joining Mastodon Social or hosting your own Mastodon “instance” and connecting it to other instances. The platform also comes with several features such as anti-abuse tools, which offer protection against harassment and other harmful factors that may negatively affect your user experience.
Having amassed millions of users in a relatively short amount of time, Minds is one of today’s most used decentralized social media platforms This decentralized Facebook-like clone features hashtags and trending feeds, allowing you to discover content related to your interests.
Best of all, like many decentralized social platforms, you have the option of earning tokens for your content contributions. You can earn the platform’s native $MIND ERC-20 tokens by creating and sharing popular content, getting others to join the platform, and contributing to the Minds ecosystem as a whole.
In many ways, Aether is a decentralized version of Reddit. It’s a democratic community full of democratic communities which offers the ability to self-govern, elect and impeach mods (modifications), and more.
In this regard, Aether is the ultimate decentralized social platform. Not only is its peer-to-peer platform open-source and hosted on nodes around the globe, but users also have full control over every aspect of the platform’s look, feel and function.
Peepeth is a decentralized microblogging platform built for the Ethereum blockchain. User data is stored via IPFS (InterPlanetary File System), which is a P2P hypermedia protocol developed for Web 3.0.
Similar to Twitter’s tweets, users can send “Peeps,” which are short messages that can’t be modified or deleted. Like many other decentralized social media platforms, Peepeth doesn’t have the same easy-to-use interface as Twitter and other big name traditional platforms, but you can collect tips and tip others in ETH directly from the DApp.
Pixelfed is a simple Instagram alternative that’s worth checking out if you want to control your privacy and data. With Pixelfed, you get the same photo-sharing abilities as Instagram, but rather than using an algorithm to create a timeline, it simply follows a chronological order. This means none of your data is collected and used for creating a personalized experience.
Interestingly, Pixelfed uses the same open protocol as Mastodon. In fact, you can theoretically communicate and interact with Mastodon instances via the Pixelfed platform. This makes perfect sense, considering both Facebook and Instagram are owned by Meta in the traditional social media world.
LBRY follows a blockchain-based protocol and is primarily promoted as a decentralized alternative to YouTube. With LBRY, you can create and publish movies, books, games and various other types of digital content.
Of course, like many of the other decentralized social media platforms on this list, LBRY also has its own native currency, LBC, which is used to power the digital marketplace where you can purchase access to content and share your own.
As its name suggests, PeerTube is another decentralized YouTube alternative. Developed by Framasoft, a French digital technology company, this open-source video streaming platform utilizes the BitTorrent protocol to allow users to share their bandwidth.
There are several different instances of PeerTube available for hosting your videos. You can also host them yourself if you choose. While most instances are free, some may charge money.
Nonetheless, as a decentralized social platform, one of the benefits of PeerTube is the fact that it doesn’t track you or pepper you with ads for revenue. However, before using the platform, it’s important to know that your IP address will not be anonymous, so it doesn’t exactly hit the mark in terms of privacy protection.
Diaspora was launched back in 2010, making it one of the oldest decentralized social networks in existence today. Even back then, it was touted as an alternative to Facebook. However, while more and more users continue to migrate to the social media giant, Diaspora has never really taken off and remains pretty well confined to niche members.
Similar to Mastodon, Diaspora comprises pods or “instances.” You can register with one or several pods, or you can host your own pod without worrying about whether or not your data is safe in the hands of Big Tech. Why? Because you own the data, not them.
Akin to WhatsApp but without the blatant lack of control and privacy, Signal allows you to send and receive encrypted messages and calls. However, its open-source protocol does raise separate concerns for some, and the platform’s UI isn’t the easiest to use.
DTube is another video sharing option for those looking for a decentralized blockchain-based YouTube clone. Other than its name, the platform resembles YouTube in almost every way.
Unlike YouTube, however, DTube is governed by the use of DTube Coins, or DTC. As a DTube creator, you can earn DTC whenever someone views or interacts with the content you publish. You can then cash the coins out using a partner crypto exchange, or use them to promote your content and grow your brand.
Cryptocurrencies are developed with the goal of taking back power from corporations and established centralized systems. First, Bitcoin came onto the scene and challenged the banking system. Now, DeSo aims to do the same via social media.
The DeSo blockchain was built to power decentralized social media in the world of Web 3.0. It empowers content creators and publishers on a variety of social media DApps, as well as crypto enthusiasts with a keen interest in the growth of decentralized social media.
From a technical point of view, DeSo is a lot like an evolved Bitcoin node. In addition to sending and receiving money, the DeSo DApp can be used for much more than simply sending and receiving money. With its large storage capacity and unique indexing logic, DeSo can support a variety of transaction types and social media features.
The Future of Decentralized Social Media
With stiff competition from Big Tech, a slower user adoption rate, and the various pitfalls that come with following an ownership accountability model, the future of decentralized social media is difficult to predict.
That said, we can be certain about two things:
- There is a definite need for decentralized social ecosystems that exist to serve the interest of users, not big business.
- The continued growth in the usage of blockchain technology in the financial industry can transform the way we transact on a global scale.
On this latter point, Bitcoin, Ethereum and other major cryptocurrencies are collectively continuing to become a more widely accepted mode of payment. As such, their values have experienced extremely healthy appreciation year after year.
While the notion of decentralized social media may seem laughable or enviable, depending on which side of the fence you sit, one thing is certain – crypto is not going anywhere, and neither are the blockchain-based decentralized ecosystems that power them.
In other words, in both the short and long term, it looks like decentralized social networks will only continue to improve and are definitely here to stay.
Should You Use Decentralized Social Media?
Traditional social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram not only prioritize income creation, but they also place attention-grabbing advertisements everywhere and control user data as well as what they post and view. This leaves some users feeling more like pawns or dollar signs than actual members of a “community.”
For the most part, this isn’t the case with decentralized social media networks. Unlike traditional networks, they allow you to interact without fear of censorship. Rather than dictating everything, developers simply provide guiding rules. The rest is up to the distributed community of users to decide.
Needless to say, decentralized social media platforms are a good option to consider if you’re worried about controlling your data, security and privacy. They may also be appealing if you’re interested in owning your content, monetizing it and remaining anonymous online.
The Bottom Line
Social media networks are incredibly fine-tuned machines that take years, not months, to dial in and become mainstream. Knowing this, it’s safe to say it will be some time before decentralized social media platforms grow their user bases large enough to gain relevance.
Nonetheless, decentralized social media is definitely showing signs of potential. With more and more people becoming frustrated with Big Tech’s greed and mistakes, a major shift toward decentralized communication may very well take place, and it may happen sooner than many people predict.