New social media can give power back to the users

New blockchain-based social media are gaining ground and challenging established platforms, such as Facebook, for example by paying their users in crypto currency for producing, sharing and liking content. These new media have the potential to give back control to the users, but according to Raffaele Ciriello, who is doing research on the topic, they also raise new ethical and legal issues.

Business IT DepartmentResearchblockchainsocial mediaRaffaele Ciriello

We all know Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, but how about Steemit, WildSpark and Nexus? These are just three of a whole host of new, blockchain-based social media, which give users a greater degree of control of their data, and even gives them an opportunity to earn money by producing and curating content. One of the most promising examples is Steemit, which is slowly seeping from the underground into the mainstream, with about a million users worldwide.

In his research, Raffaele Ciriello, Assistant Professor at the IT University of Copenhagen and associated with European Blockchain Centre, examines how Steemit and similar platforms differ from the established social media.

“What is new about these blockchain-based social media are, among other things, that all data shared on them are impossible to delete, that the users can earn money on their activity, and that their management is decentralised. We wish to examine how the users adapt to these platforms, what new practices and phenomena they will give rise to, and the positive and negative consequences they might have on our society,” says Raffaele Ciriello.

VIDEO: BLOCKCHAIN SOCIAL MEDIA EXPLAINED IN ONE MINUTE

Cryptocurrency for likes

Raffaele Ciriello believes that the most innovative feature of portals such as Steemit is the fact that users get a share of the value they create online.

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Blockchain-based social media have the potential to give power back to the users, by allowing users to decide how value is created and distributed online.

Raffaele Ciriello, Assistant Professor at ITU
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“Studies show that every Facebook user generates about $1000 of value every year, just by posting, liking and sending messages. This value only goes to Facebook, which is one of the reasons why Facebook is one of the most valuable companies in the world. But the users don’t get any share of the profits. Blockchain-based social media have the potential to give power back to the users, by allowing users to decide how value is created and distributed online,” he says.

On Steemit, users earn cryptocurrency in exchange for the content they create. Every day, the website generates a number of ‘Steem dollars’, which are distributed among the users that have generated the most traffic. Influential users, who like and share popular updates, are also rewarded for their effort.

“I spoke with a food blogger, who has 300,000 followers on her YouTube channel. During the five years that she has had this channel, she has earned a maximum of $1000 a month in advertisement revenue. The rest of the value is absorbed by YouTube. In one year on Steemit, she has earned more than 150,000 US dollars’ worth of Steem dollars by sharing the same type of content,” says Raffaele Ciriello.

Unpredictable consequences

The natural follow-up question is, of course, whether this currency has any actual value in the real world?

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In San Francisco there are already restaurants who take Steem for payment, and there are web shops where you can buy coffee mugs and t-shirts with your digital money.

Raffaele Ciriello, Assistant Professor at ITU
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“Steem dollars is a cryptocurrency, like bitcoin, and you can exchange it for bitcoin, and then to euro or US dollars. The exchange rate rises and falls depending on the market demand. At the moment, one Steem dollar is worth about 5 US dollars. In San Francisco there are already restaurants who take Steem for payment, and there are web shops where you can buy coffee mugs and t-shirts with your digital money,” explains Raffaele Ciriello.

Because you can exchange Steem dollars for real money, he says, there are bloggers who make a living by sharing and curating content on the platform.

“As a part of my research project, I interviewed an African farmer who has earned enough money on his Steemit blog to buy new equipment and animals for the family farm. He saw a huge potential for Steemit to contribute to eradicate poverty in the third world, because the networks make it possible to distribute value across the world,” says Raffaele Ciriello.

On a larger scale, however, the consequences of this new economy can be hard to predict, he adds.

“We don’t know the larger economical and societal consequences of these new social media. Will people choose to spend time on the social media rather than working or getting an education, because they can earn money by sharing pictures of their dinner? And is that the kind of society we want?” he asks.

Technology overtakes the law

The fact that Steemit is blockchain-based means that all content, communication between users, user information, and distribution of content are handled by a blockchain. A blockchain can best be described as a database supported by a large network of computers. Once something is registered on a blockchain, it is technically impossible to edit or delete it– because even if the information is deleted on one computer, it still exists on all the other computers on the network.

This means that, unlike the established social media, Steemit is a completely censure-free platform, which is obviously beneficial for people in countries with limited freedom of speech. But Raffaele Ciriello points out that the impossibility of deleting content also has major negative potential consequences.

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From a research perspective, it is interesting to raise questions about how we should respond to the new challenges emerging with these media, for instance in cases where illegal content is shared, or in cases of copyright infringement

Raffaele Ciriello, Assistant Professor at ITU
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“The drawback is, of course, that illegal and offensive content, as well as the embarrassing blog post you wrote as a teenager, will also be impossible to remove,” he says, and continues:

“From a research perspective, it is interesting to raise questions about how we should respond to the new challenges emerging with these media, for instance in cases where illegal content is shared, or in cases of copyright infringement,” he says.

“As is often the case, the technology is developing faster than policies and legislation.”

Further information

Raffaele Ciriello, Assistant Professor, phone +45 7218 5248, email raci@itu.dk

Vibeke Arildsen, Press Officer, phone 2555 0447, email viar@itu.dk