Guest article expanding on social media, data protection and trust, by Shirly Valge, COO at Velas
There are two main issues with social media these days. Both seem to be an extension of one another, and I am talking about censorship and the data protection of centralized social media platforms. Clearly, I am not the first one talking about this, and I sure hope I won’t be the last. But before we dive deeper, let me set the stage.
When I was 16, I used to live in China. As any teenager in a faraway place I was dependent on close ties with friends and family back home, yet in China the only way for me to communicate with my loved ones was through e-mail. All other social media platforms and messengers or chats were banned. I also lived in Taiwan at some point, which, despite its close proximity to China, had a different set of rules: I could use Facebook, Google and pretty much any other website or online service, and not have any information censored.
The fact that internet and social media censorship is strict in China plays into the government’s narrative that it is every person’s mission to preserve social stability. As a result, people undergo self-censorship; some, however, find creative ways to get around the censorship by using emojis to express what they really feel.
Funnily enough, 2020 showed us that political elites in the Western World are no better. I am sure we will remember the social media platforms blocking President Trump’s content and then eventually deplatforming him. You may agree or disagree with his antics, yet if we live in a truly democratic society, where platforms are there to uphold the freedom of speech that should be enjoyed by its users, this type of development is worrisome to say the least.
The second issue — data protection seems to be even more complex and convoluted. The first time this issue was brought to public attention was with the Cambridge Analytica scandal. I would also recommend you to watch ’The Great Hack’ documentary if you have an account on one of the following platforms: Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp, and on one of the most trending apps — Clubhouse, which apparently doesn’t comply with the EU’s GDPR rules.
The Cambridge Analytica scandal, Whatsapp backdoors for the U.S Government, and many other discovered data breaches on other platforms exposed how our private data is being used by tech companies, their corporate clients and governments. The true depth of this systemic problem is unquantifiable. Platforms collect information about each and every user, selling it to the highest bidder. For a long time, we’ve been watched and that’s public knowledge — not just a worldwide conspiracy theory. Yes, you are the product, you are paying with your data, and you are being spied on.
But why do people keep using these services? We at Velas believe that the answer lies in the user experience. We also believe that Blockchain technology alone is not enough.
Let’s have a look at Estonia’s eHealth and eGov initiatives. Effectively, these are decentralized permission-based databases, akin to the blockchain architecture. Users can see which entity requested their data, but cannot switch access to their data just yet.
This is a prime example of how the future of social media may look like. In late 2020, just before deplatforming then-President Trump, Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, talked about introducing blockchain technology to Twitter in order to add more trust and transparency to the way things work. In fact, in his post-deplatforming interview, he talked about handing over the reigns of power to the community. This is yet another example, akin to some of the blockchain governance systems. Communities and their decisions are part and parcel of successful blockchain projects. I am pleased to see some of the centralized big tech companies moving towards a decentralized model of both governance and operations.
Fortunately, Web 3.0 — or “Decentralized Network” — is in a growing trend. Web 3.0 is designed to restore confidentiality, transparency and data management to users. Our goal at Velas Network is the decentralization of the centralized services, meaning the transformation of existing models into the open and community-regulated ones.
Enter BitOrbit — the decentralized version of your favorite messengers and a social network, capable of hosting user generated content. We are also adding a crypto wallet, because it’s important to develop the commerce aspect from the offset, and, naturally, the service will be anonymous, providing the user with all necessary controls over their personal data.
We know we are on the right track too. The European Commission just came out with the news about its project, named “TruBlo.” It will oversee a wealth of blockchain developments as part of the European Commission’s Next Generation Internet initiative. An estimated 450 proposals will be assessed in the coming years as part of the initiative’s goal of “developing trust and reputation models on blockchain,” It is expected that 45 of the proposals will receive partial funding, while nine will be funded to completion. All of this is aimed at boosting the integrity of social media posts with the help of blockchain technology over the next three years.
I am excited to see what will come out of it and also, excited for our BitOrbit project, which is exactly what the European Commission is seeking to develop — a truly decentralized social media platform.
This is an article guest-written by Velas COO Shirly Valge. You can follow Shirly on Twitter, LinkedIn, or reach out to her via Telegram. This is a continuation to an interview with Pavel Jakovlev on The White Spaces Show.