Social media on its own is plagued with lots of challenges some of which are misinformation, user privacy, malicious activities and even political and economic neutrality or a lack of. And at the moment, there are centralized and decentralized social apps. These two have their peculiarities.
Centralized apps are operated and owned by a single company, and they run off a single server or cluster of servers. For centralized apps to work, a person downloads an app or uses the site’s website. Once the server goes down, the service won’t work. Examples of centralized social platforms are Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube
Decentralized social networks operate on independently run servers rather than a central server that is owned by a business. Decentralized social networks give users more control and autonomy. This is because an individual can set up their social network and they can determine how it operates. This replaces the corporation that monitors content on social apps. Some of these decentralized social networks are Minds, Aether, Steemit, Mastodon, LBRY, Peertube and Dtube.
The areas of similitude and divergence between centralized and decentralized social apps will be discussed.
User Control, Free Speech, and Censorship
The centralized media has been controlled and governed by a set of rules which have been set up by corporate entities. Users do not have any form of influence on the contents allowed on the platform. These rules that guide the modus Operandi have been formulated by the team. Different trigger words are set and once these rules have been violated, decisive actions would be taken. At times, posts get taken down, at times accounts get shadow-banned as some activities are restricted, and other times an account may get suspended for some time or indefinitely. With this, there is a limit to the content that can be posted and discussed on these centralized platforms. This is apparently to ensure that the space is healthy for all users.
On the decentralized social network, users are given more control of the app. A decentralized network fosters independence without an absolute central authority. For decentralized social networks, users are not governed by sets of rules like centralized apps. They get to decide and determine the content that can be posted on the app. They have the liberty to discuss issues and discuss and share content on this app as they deem fit. Unlike centralized apps, no one can remove or modify the content generated by the users since there is no central authority that dictates and gives a general rule that all other apps must abide by. Rules on decentralized apps are group-based and these rules vary depending on each group. The set of rules applicable to a particular group might not apply to the other group. Hence contents allowed for each group differ too.
One major loophole of this liberty is that it can get abused by users as a set of people can form groups and share illicit content and hateful messages with each other. And this would go on unchecked since they determine the rules of the group.
Personal Data and Security
On centralized apps, the privacy and security of users’ data rest in the hands of the app developers. All the activities of users are kept in a database by these developers. Personal data such as personal emails and personal phone numbers are required when signing up on these apps. Only these developers have access to these data and what these data are being used for. Often, these data are used by these centralized firms for different purposes which will be unknown to the populace unless there is a leak. This has in a way posed a threat to the personal details of individuals. Recently, Mark Zuckerberg was sued for using the data of Facebook users as a bargaining chip to leverage over companies it partnered with.
For decentralized social apps, there is a more secure protocol that has been put in place in terms of personal data privacy. On decentralized social networks, users do not necessarily need to link their real-world identities such as email addresses, or phone numbers to any account created. And in terms of data security, rather than relying on a single organization to protect users’ data, decentralized networks often rely on public-key cryptography for account security. Since there is no single centralized authority housing these data, there is more security in that regard.
Account Recovery Feature
Account recovery on centralized apps is quite straightforward. In cases where the password to the account has been forgotten, codes or verification links will be sent to the registered email or phone. These verification codes and emails will lead to the recovery of that particular account. In some cases, 2 factor authentication will also be required if it has been enabled. In cases where a 3rd party, possibly a hacker, is trying to access the account, it notifies the account owner and the account owner can cancel the login attempt. This is also a means of fortification for the app.
The decentralized social network has a unique account recovery feature. When identity is forgotten, the decentralized social network will implement its social recovery system. For this to work, predetermined trusted identities will be contacted so they can vouch for the user’s identity. It is until these people confirm
and authenticate the identity that the account is retrieved.
One interesting security option is that the user will have to pay a deposit and also prove to the specified number of trustees that they are attempting. This makes hacking more difficult because while a hacker is trying to claim the user’s identity, the owner can cancel the recovery request and claim the deposit paid by the attacker.
One of the ways centralized apps generate revenue is through ads. These centralized apps help products and companies to advertise their brand since they have a wider reach. These brands pay for these ads. Some of these ads come up as pop-up ads and in some cases sponsored posts. These ads for users are somehow unsolicited and users find them quite frustrating and considered an intrusion of privacy by some.
Decentralized apps on the contrary are free from unsolicited advertisements. Privacy does not get intruded upon through ads. Decentralized social networks make use of new forms of monetization to stay unlevered. They make use of digital currencies to keep operations running.
For example Steemit. Steemit pays its users for creating content and this incentivizes them to focus on quality. Steemit gets funded by investors and partners who believe the platform will grow in value over time and will one day be profitable.
Both the centralized and the decentralized social network have their strengths and weaknesses. And the decision of one to gain more prominence over the other is dependent on users as they are in the place to decide which works for them.