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smART socIal media eCOsytstem in a blockchaiN Federated environment

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Putting users in control of their social media and online data

A new, decentralised social media platform uses blockchain technology to create a more transparent – and trustworthy – social continuum.

Digital Economy

It seems that nearly everyone, regardless of age, gender or nationality, now uses social media. The result of this mass migration to social is the creation of a social continuum – where people and messages are connected via a multitude of platforms. “The problem is that popular social networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, WeChat and TikTok are all monolithic, meaning each is hosted on a centralised cloud data centre and controlled by a single company,” says Radu Prodan, a professor of Distributed Systems at the University of Klagenfurt. With the support of the EU-funded ARTICONF project, Prodan is working to democratise the social continuum. “Using blockchain and other trustworthy technologies, we’re building a decentralised social media platform that raises the bar in terms of transparency, privacy and autonomy,” adds Prodan.

Caging the troll

According to Prodan, social media’s centralised ownership model raises several trust-related issues, including data security, privacy, transparency and the propagation of false content – i.e. ‘fake news’. “One of the most common examples is the so-called troll,” notes Prodan. “These individuals use a fake identity to engage in controversial discussions or deliberately communicate low-quality, manipulative information that often spreads quicker and attracts more readers than credible sources.” In order to ‘cage the troll’, the ARTICONF project has developed a blockchain-as-a-service platform for building trustworthy, scalable and democratic decentralised social applications (Social DApps). The project chose the blockchain platform in part because of its use of consensus protocols, a method that allows users to verify transactions. “Hosted on a federated cloud, our Social DApps have the potential to create a secure and practically inviolable social continuum,” remarks Prodan. “Without any centralised control mechanism, we can connect billions of people and allow them to safely share information using democratic consensus protocols.”

Decentralised social applications in action

To demonstrate the effectiveness of the ARTICONF solution, researchers developed four different Social DApp use cases, including for crowd journalism, car sharing, video opinion discussion and the smart energy marketplace. “Our Video Opinion Discussion Social DApp generated over 3 000 social video opinions in over a dozen communities,” says Prodan. “These included such politically essential topics as academic freedom, education and knowledge exchange in Hungary, along with issues such as equality, diversity and inclusion, bridging the digital divide, climate change, employability and fair elections.” The car sharing Social DApp was recently featured in ‘Blockchain: Research and Applications’. According to the article, the app allows customers to temporarily check out a vehicle on demand. However, instead of having to pay the standard per-mile or per-hour fee, users pay a variable fee based on the distance they travel or the time they spend using the car. “Instead of having pricing and penalties decided by a centralised entity, our solution builds a community of car owners and fleet managers where rental pricing is determined by a number of sources,” explains Prodan. “Eventually, this could mean that drivers with stellar driving records get a better price on their car rentals.” The project has shared its results via more than 70 scientific peer-reviewed publications and over 60 events and activities. It also secured two patents and has made its entire toolset for DApp development available on GitHub under the Apache 2 licence.

Keywords

ARTICONF, blockchain, social media, transparency, privacy, online data, social continuum, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, WeChat, TikTok, data security, fake news, troll, decentralised social applications

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