How Web3 Can Empower Users and Communities in Social Mediaby@matthewma
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How Web3 Can Empower Users and Communities in Social Media

by Matthew MaOctober 13th, 2023
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Web3 models built on blockchains, cryptography, and decentralized protocols could align social media with user ownership, control, and agency.
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Social media has become deeply embedded into the fabric of society, enabling global connection while also consolidating power in the hands of centralized platforms. However, emerging web3 models built on blockchain technology offer an alternate vision that could realign social media with its original empowering promise.

This examination will analyze the landscape of both centralized and decentralized social platforms. It will explore how core components like cryptography, blockchain ledgers, tokens, and DAOs could provide the technological backbone for social networks owned and operated by the users themselves rather than corporate gatekeepers.

While this transition faces profound technical and adoption hurdles, web3 presents an opportunity to remedy the increasingly evident harms of consolidated control - from data exploitation to algorithmic manipulation. Realizing that potential will require surmounting complex challenges around governance, incentives, and usability. However, the momentum toward decentralized models is accelerating as scandals mount.

The Troubling Trajectory of Centralized Social Networks

Before envisioning how decentralized protocols could transform social interactions online, it is important to trace the origins of today's dominant model of centralized control.

In the early days of social media, visionary pioneers saw opportunities to connect people around the globe in profoundly democratizing ways. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter offered tools for open sharing, grassroots organizing, and unprecedented access to perspectives outside one's geographical limitations.

But as networks grew rapidly in scale and influence, the idealistic early social contract eroded. In response to market pressures and incentives, centralized platforms shifted toward data collection, targeted advertising, algorithmic curation, and other techniques for maximize engagement. While these tools increased profits and usage metrics, they also imposed mounting costs:

  • Pervasive Tracking and Exploitation of User Data - Comprehensive monitoring of activities, behaviors, and connections enables privacy intrusions and hyper-targeted advertising. Users have little visibility or control.

  • Curated Feeds that Maximize Engagement - Algorithmic timelines based on optimization metrics displace chronological transparency. This risks trapping users in filter bubbles.

  • Asymmetries Between Users and Platforms - Users generate content, networks, and value while platforms extract data for immense corporate profit. Relationships grow transactional.

  • Risks of Overreach in Centralized Moderation - Consolidated content moderation policies increase efficiency but enable censorship and overreach. Some abusive behaviors still fall through the cracks.

  • Security Vulnerabilities from Data Consolidation - Central repositories of user data increase risks from hacking, data breaches, and state surveillance.

  • Limited Opportunities for Recourse - With decision-making concentrated in corporate bureaucracies, users have a minimal voice around governance, policies, or values.

This trajectory reveals how centralized control, while efficient, can distance platforms from the people and communities they were built to serve. Each wave of scandals and controversies illuminates the gap between Silicon Valley incentives and user interests.

The Pillars Underlying Web 3.0 Models

Growing disillusionment with centralized platforms provides fertile ground for decentralized alternatives. But transitioning from vision to reality requires building on three foundational pillars:

  • Decentralized Blockchains - Rather than centrally managed databases, public blockchains rely on peer-to-peer networks applying transparent consensus rules to synchronize and verify data.

  • Cryptocurrencies and Tokens - To incentivize behaviors that align with decentralized community goals, native crypto assets like Bitcoin and Ethereum's Ether enable the exchange of value and governance rights without centralized issuers or clearinghouses.

  • DAOs (Decentralized Autonomous Organizations) - Smart contracts allow coordinating workflows, voting, treasuries, and resource pooling in a distributed manner according to embedded rules rather than top-down management.

Together, these technologies enable platforms and communities coordinated by engaged users according to collectively agreed-upon rules and incentives rather than corporate intermediaries. Their application to social media re-opens profound questions about governance, economics, privacy, and speech online.

Early Experiments in User-Owned Social Networks

A new generation of blockchain-based networks offers glimpses into the possibilities of decentralized, user-driven social media:

  • Steemit - An early web3 social network leveraging the Steem blockchain to reward users, content creators, and curators with native STEEM tokens based on community votes.

  • Minds - Uses crypto token models to incentivize ethical content creation, crowdfunding, and moderation on its open-source network controlled by users rather than corporations.

  • - Developing a decentralized identity layer for social interactions without surveillance or centralized data exploitation, along with participatory economics.

  • Bluesky - An initiative by Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, exploring open recommendation algorithms to reduce centralized control over content visibility.

  • Lens Protocol - Provides developer-friendly infrastructure for decentralized social graphs anchored to user blockchain wallets using public profiles and follows.

These experiments highlight paths toward social ecosystems aligned with user ownership, agency, and value creation.

Decentralizing Content Moderation and Governance

A key question facing decentralized social networks involves governance. Can community health be maintained without recourse to centralized moderation?

Hybrid approaches blending blockchain transparency with user self-governance could enhance accountability:

  • Encoding Policies in Smart Contracts - Content rules and community guidelines get translated into inspectable and updatable software logic.

  • Leveraging Token-Incentivized Validation - Swarms of crypto-rewarded users help flag abusive posts and problematic accounts for collective review.

  • Quadratic Voting on Disputed Cases - A weighted voting process considers both numbers of votes and intensity of preferences on contested moderation, limiting echo chambers.

  • DAOs Managing Shared Resources - Community treasuries, administrator keys, governance processes, and policies are directed by inclusive on-chain voting.

  • Partially Anonymized Profiles - Unique user IDs allow accountability and reputation portability without revealing personal details or enabling tracking across contexts.

  • Transparent Public Moderation Logs - On-chain records of content takedowns or account suspensions provide visibility into collective decisions over time, enabling oversight.

Deliberate crypto-economic designs could enable community self-governance at scale, with disputes resolved through collective wisdom rather than centralized authority.

Restoring User Agency through Data Portability

Centralized data silos impose steep costs in terms of privacy, transparency, and control. But users can regain agency within web3 models:

  • Self-Sovereign Digital Identity - Users control access to profile data, relationships, posts, and assets via private keys unmediated by external platforms.

  • Selective and Contextual Data Exposure - Granular visibility settings allow compartmentalizing personas and activities across apps to share only what's relevant with certain groups.

  • Interoperable Social Graphs - Following open standards, decentralized identifiers allow reputations, content, and networks to port fluidly across compatible platforms rather than remain siloed.

  • User-Driven Interest Feeds - Curated algorithmic timelines get replaced by interest-based social graphs modulated according to user choices rather than corporate optimization goals.

By directly owning and controlling profiles, content, and social graphs via cryptography, users can dictate the terms of interoperability and portability. Their social capital gets decoupled from walled gardens.

Aligning Crypto Token Models with User Value

Carefully engineered crypto token models allow aligning economic incentives with user-generated value:

  • Compensating Creators through Tips - Direct micropayments in utility tokens build sustainable funding models where wide audiences multiply earnings. Users tip to access ad-free content.

  • Curation Influence Proportional to Stake - The visibility superpowers of likes, hashtags, and trends get modulated based on skin in the game. This resists bot manipulation.

  • Frictionless Access Control - Staking tokens allow accessing exclusive permissions, identity verification, specialized roles, higher visibility, or private communities.

  • DAO Treasury Funds Ecosystem Growth - A portion of revenues flows into a community treasury governed on-chain. Users collectively decide on grants, incentives, or public goods.

  • Equity in Platform Monetization - If incorporating supplemental ads or transaction fees, DAO governance allocates revenue shares to avoid concentrated corporate gain.

With carefully calibrated token engineering, blockchains enable direct economic alignment between users, contributors, and stewards supporting the social ecosystem.

Micropayments as an Alternative to Advertising

In addition to crypto asset models, the microtransaction capabilities of blockchain systems offer additional alternatives to advertising:

  • Lower Barriers to Direct Exchange - Cryptocurrency micropayments allow frictionless transactions of just pennies, unlocking crowdfunding and subscriptions at the nanoscale.

  • Users Can Fund the Experiences They Value - Micropayments allow users to directly support creators and communities rather than having their attention treated as a product to indirectly monetize.

  • Creators Can Build Niche Audiences - Token-gated access also enables creators to convert engaged followings into exclusive, intimate social spaces funded directly by members.

  • Vetting Mechanisms to Deter Abuse - Requiring micropayments can limit bots and trolls while funding moderation and governance.

Direct exchange creates a social media economy centered on aligned incentives between engaged communities rather than centralized data brokerage.

Obstacles Along the Path to Mainstream Decentralized Adoption

Despite the conceptual appeal, migrating today's massively scaled networks into web3 models involves profound challenges:

  • Mainstream User Experience Hurdles - Managing private keys, crypto assets, governance rights, and modular digital identities may feel burdensome to users habituated to centralized convenience.

  • Acute Platform Lock-In Effects - Transitioning existing social graphs and accrued capital to new platforms faces extreme inertia, even when aligned with user interests long-term.

  • Technology Maturation Needed - Current blockchain infrastructure remains inadequate for supporting seamless mainstream social interactions due to limitations in scalability, latency, crypto UI/UX, and standards.

  • Ongoing Centralization Risks - As networks grow, the tendency toward consolidation and profit-seeking behaviors will require vigilant governance to resist.

  • Safety and Privacy Tradeoffs - While pseudonymity provides some protection, risks around stalking, misinformation, predation, and harassment may require diligent peer moderation.

Overcoming these challenges will require profound advances across technology, design, business models, policy, and community governance.

Aligning Decentralized Social Networks with Human Values

If decentralized models gain traction, policymakers will need to grapple with questions about rules, rights, and responsibilities in this new reality:

  • What should be the balance between privacy, anonymity, transparency, and accountability?

  • How do we embed ethics around justice, empowerment, compassion, and inclusion into community guidelines?

  • Can protections against harms like misinformation be enforced algorithmically or require discretion?

  • If web3 social networks gain economic influence, how do they ensure equitable access to participation?

  • What kind of oversight roles should government regulators play within decentralized environments they don't directly control?

The answers will shape whether decentralized social networks empower humanity's best or worst tendencies. Above all, these questions illuminate the need for humane technologists, policymakers, and communities to unite around shared values that uplift society.


As scandals and loss of public trust mount, centralized giants seem increasingly disconnected from their communities and users. But emerging web3 models offer hope of realigning social technology with its highest purpose - bringing people together.

There are no shortcuts along this path. It will require time, experimentation, and multidisciplinary collaboration between technologists, creatives, policymakers, and community stewards. But the seeds of a more user-driven social media, free from exploitation and centralized agendas, have been planted. With patient nurturing, those seeds could blossom into social ecosystems where engaged users collectively hold power and ownership.

The dominant platforms of today will evolve - or risk irrelevance. As user awareness grows, decentralized alternatives will only gain momentum. This historic transition will encounter challenges but also opportunities to learn from past mistakes. Most importantly, it’s a chance to recenter human needs - for connection, community, security, and belonging - in the digital public squares of the 21st century.