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Is the future of social networks decentralized?

Niklas Janssen

Current social networks like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram mostly have a centralized approach ([1], [2], [6]). They are centralized in the sense, that all data is processed in data centers that are under a corporation’s control. It is hard to beat the economies of scale that can be achieved by having gigantic server farms which process the huge amounts of data that are being created. But there is a lot of merit in a more decentralized approach. Especially if that approach serves a purpose other than making money by selling user data or entrapping people’s brains in a loop of distraction and dopamine release.

Of course, decentralization alone is not the sole solution to this problem. But in centralized systems there is always the possibility of data being collected and sold. The cost of operating server farms also creates the need of making a profit. That’s why social networks nowadays are often heavily reliant on ad revenue which creates a need to make users as dependent as possible on the platform, so they spend more time on it.

Society could really benefit from a social network with the sole purpose of connecting people and without the need for psychological tricks or selling data to maximize profits. Social media platforms purposefully create echo chambers to keep engagement high which nurture more extreme opinions and further cement the divide between political camps [9]. Additionally, platforms like TikTok use algorithms to take advantage of the way people’s brains are wired to maximize their time spent on the platform. All while damaging people’s attention span in the process [4].

An ideal social media platform would therefore either need a different kind of monetarization like a monthly fee or it needs to be decentralized and work with a technology like peer-to-peer (P2P) to save on infrastructural costs. That way the load which is normally taken on by data centers could be moved to the clients.

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