The Decentralization of Social Media Platforms

As mainstream media becomes less relevant in our polarized Nation, there is no doubt that social media will adapt & shift alongside it. Big social brands like Facebook/Instagram, Twitter, & Snapchat have made strides to apply further restrictions on content in an effort to share factual information, be inclusive & non-discriminatory & be an overall positive landscape where users have both data privacy & protection from hateful speech or false information. Most recently, President Trump has been banned from a plethora of social media platforms with claims about abuse of power & encouraging insurrection at our Capitol during the electoral confirmation process.

Because of these changes, there is now an opportunity for new social platforms to emerge & promote a decentralized communication structure. These platforms will allow for individuals to focus on isolating the content that is relevant & entertaining to them & is more aligned with their individual interests & beliefs. The POTUS himself is claiming he will be creating a platform of his own to be able to communicate with his MAGA followers without fear of censorship.

Will this wider range of social options release the tension between conflicting opinions or further silo users by their individualized content consumption preferences?

First, let’s take a look at some of these emerging platforms:

MASTODON

which was developed in 2016 to be a friendlier, more positive & ad-free version of Twitter. Mimicking the Twitter interface allows for ease of transition, but there are several key differences in this platform experience. Mastodon is a decentralized platform, meaning that all content is distributed across independent servers known as “instances”. Each instance has its own terms of service, code of conduct & moderation policies while working seamlessly together with other servers as a federating network.

Key Differences:

Key Takeaways:

GAB

This platform launched in 2017 & is targeted towards the far right population in America who have been banned from other platforms due to content & conduct concerns. It “champions free speech, individual liberty and the free flow of information online” according to their website and is currently an ad-free environment. As of April 13th, the website has 3.7MM global monthly visitors according to the website’s 2020 SEC filings.

Key Differences:

Key Takeaways:

PARLER

The newest platform in the mix is described as an ad-free place where you can “speak freely & express yourself openly without fear of being deplatformed for your views” according to their website. Their pillars are based around both freedom of speech, but also data security and privacy. User sign ups spiked in mid-2020 after Twitter dropped political advertising & began to implement regulations on Trump’s inaccurate content on the platform.

Key Differences:

Key Takeaways:

So is decentralization a good thing or a bad thing?

Well, it depends on who you ask. First, it’s important to understand what decentralization means in the social environment. The core idea is a shift in the dynamics of data ownership and lack of a central authority by relying on blockchain technology and eliminating data warehousing. Things like increased protection of data combined with the right to speak freely without fear of being moderated are all positive outcomes of decentralization. It’s easy to hope that birds of a feather who flock together will create a more peaceful social environment, but it’s possible (or dare I say more likely) that these siloed social landscapes could actually provoke further civil unrest. Decentralization raises concerns about opinion-based content & the spread of misinformation given more than half of Americans report that they get news from social media often, despite their continued concern about the accuracy of that information (PEW 2020 research study). Niche platforms can easily become echo chambers that promote one opinion & can continue to polarize users with differing views. New platforms hitting the market are more fluid & more message based, which opens up opportunities for passive thoughts to evolve into direct action. Whether that format promotes positive interactions vs. insurrection is tougher to predict or regulate without a central authority.

It’s too early to tell if these platforms will have a substantial impact from a market share perspective. Without advertising structures in place, the user experience consists primarily of user interaction vs. platform content production. Because paid social media has become such a crucial part of any plan, we will have to pay close attention to behavior changes, pricing fluctuation, scale & reach shifts as we continue to vy for our audience’s limited attention. Outside of these standard metrics, time spent on the app as well as shifts in the purpose each platform fulfills for its users will be huge considerations as we move forward.

At the end of the day, tech brands don’t want their platform tied directly to civil unrest. These evolving regulations are less about restricting free speech/content & more about eliminating the probability of these platforms being used as a tool to incite negative action. Emerging platforms who don’t make a concerted effort to protect their users are unlikely to be successful.

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