This is Part 2 of a special two-part series on decentralization and its possible impact on Web 3.0. Part 1, which focused on what a decentralized social media might look like and how it could change existing incentive structures, was published earlier in the week.
There’s a joke on crypto Twitter along the lines of “GM to everyone except those that dumped crypto,” with GM standing for “Good Morning” — a tongue-in-cheek comment poking fun of those who left the game too soon. It was over this running joke that Solana co-founder Raj Gokal had his Twitter account briefly suspended in the week before the Solana Breakpoint Conference over a similarly sarcastic reply to a criticism of the joke.
After supporters launched the hashtag #FreeRaj and changed their profile picture to a Degenerate Ape — one of the most popular series of NFTs to be minted on Solana — sporting “GM” on its shirt and cap, Gokal’s account was reinstated. But the timing of the suspension is ironic given how central moderation is to the conversation around decentralized platforms, and how the technology could transform current standards. Indeed, moderation is one of the most significant ongoing debates within the social media industry even as it stands at the moment.
In this example, Gokal was suspended for making a comment that people within his community realized was a joke and no harm was truly intended. Twitter was obviously unable to infer his true intention with the comment and his account was suspended before an investigation reversed the decision. In a decentralized system, control of that moderation can be taken out of the hands of a few and be decided by a consensus of users of the platform. Even if there was a central body that wanted to shut it down, as the content is hosted across a decentralized network, they would not be able to do so.
“There’s a whole new model that has to get built there,” Austin Federa, head of communication at Solana Labs, told Forkast.News. “That can really mean that participants and systems are also owners in the systems. That’s where decentralization really plugs in is that ability to link the model of ownership to the model of being a user. And you can’t do that in centralized systems for a number of reasons. Partially, just like the corporate structures, they don’t work for it. But it’s just not the way that anything we interact with outside of Web 3.0 is built.”
This strikes at the very tension of debate surrounding moderation, both online and offline as social media’s influence on the broader society only continues to grow. Some parties, however, argue that the issue isn’t too much moderation, but a lack of it.
“We believe that moderation is kind of a core value and a core strength,” Jon Brodsky, CEO of top 50 live streaming social media platform YouNow, told Forkast.News, explaining that the platform takes a very hands-on approach to moderation, “and we are not shy about suspending people for a day if they are breaking our rules.”
With its focus on community and communication, YouNow has an active flagging system where viewers are able to flag content in real-time for a mix of A.I. and real people to go and review, as Brodsky says the platform has many more live moderators than most large-scale social media platforms. Though due to the nature of the community — complemented by the alternative incentive structure afforded by YouNow’s funding model (see part one of this article) — Brodsky says the need for moderation is actually quite minimal on the platform, with consequences of breaching terms of service ranging from light warnings to outright bans, though the latter is rare.
Despite the platform hosting a diverse range of political views, Brodsky also maintains any moderation on the platform is not done to silence any voices but is just about the safety of users.
“I certainly understand why there are people who want to get around moderation until they realize what actually happens when you get rid of moderation,” Brodsky said, warning a lack of moderation can give rise to trolls, harassment and even dangerous exploitation. “Some people have said, ‘I don’t want moderation because of my views; I was canceled,’ or whatever else. What they’re really looking for is control over who gets canceled and who gets censored. That, to me, is not right.”
The idea of control is central to the debate over moderation, as all sides of politics claim to be disadvantaged by platforms like Facebook in one way or another, with both sides complaining of the silencing of their side of politics, and promotion of the other.
“Operators who fear that loss of control are in effect saying that they know better,” Yat Siu, founder and board member of Animoca Brands, a lead investor in the play-to-earn game Axie Infinity, told Forkast.News, explaining that decentralization does not equate to anarchy on these platforms.
“Modern democracy for instance is a state of decentralization — when you move power and authority to a state or municipal level you are in effect decentralizing. The key point is that the commons has a way through majority consensus to remove someone who was granted the authority by them in the first place … You can easily appoint moderators you approve and then remove if they don’t do the job you feel is appropriate, so I don’t think it’s a problem.”
Do people really want this?
Part of what makes social media so successful — for better or for worse — is the instant gratification of immediately connecting with everyone all over the world. Blockchain is good at a lot of things, but speedy it is not. The very process that makes it so secure is the same that slows many blockchains down to a crawl as transactions are verified.
While Bitcoin has had numerous features and upgrades over the years, at its base it can only run at 7 transactions per second. The world’s biggest blockchain had its biggest upgrade in four years go live recently — the Taproot upgrade — which significantly increased its scalability, privacy and efficiency. Other Layer 2 solutions such as the Lightning Network that runs on top of the blockchain also greatly improve its speeds.
“I would say there is certainly a place for crypto in social media,” Brodsky said, “but when you talk about decentralized social — which seems to be the buzzword they use — if you break that down for most of what you do on social media, you really don’t want that decentralized. You don’t want to tweet and then have it be verified that it’s you by 50 percent on the servers on the planet before it goes live.”
“If it’s going to take the same 15 minutes to clear that Bitcoin does and have the same really awful environmental impact that that does as well, that’s really hard to justify,” Brodsky added. “Our customers are teenagers and 20-somethings who care pretty deeply about things like that. How am I going to say I’m taking crypto and destroying the planet so that I can make more money? That’s not going to fly with them.”
Both the Bitcoin and Ethereum networks — the two leading blockchains in the world, with a combined market cap of US$1.5 trillion according to CoinMarketCap — both rely on a proof-of-work consensus mechanism which is extremely secure, but equally energy-intensive. This issue has been central to the debate surrounding cryptocurrency ever since Tesla stopped accepting Bitcoin for its products citing environmental concerns. As most non-fungible tokens are still minted on Ethereum, the same criticism is often leveled at the entire NFT marketplace as well.
Social media platform Discord saw this resistance to crypto adoption first hand recently when its CEO hinted on Twitter the company may start integrating Ethereum. The backlash online was immediate and focused on Ethereum’s detrimental environmental impacts and the perception of scams within the NFT marketplace. As some users unsubscribed from Discord’s services and insisted others do the same, company CEO Jason Citron issued a follow-up tweet shortly after saying the company had no intention at this time to follow through with the idea — though he did leave the door open for the prospect in the future.
Not all blockchains are created equal, however.
“Our actual technology has essentially zero carbon footprint,” Salah Zalatimo, CEO of NFT platform “Voice,” which is trying to bridge the gap between Web 2.0 and Web 3.0, told Forkast.News. Voice runs on a different type of blockchain called a proof-of-stake blockchain, much like Solana or Cardano or what Ethereum is gradually transitioning to with the release of the long-awaited Eth 2.0. Proof-of-stake works by distributing validating power depending upon how much a person has staked to the network, dramatically reducing the power requirements for maintaining the network.
“The only carbon footprint our company has is actually from employees and even that the largest chunk of it was commuting,” Zalatimo continued. “And we are fully distributed in remote work now. So, our carbon footprint is essentially zero and the cost of us offsetting it is a few hundred dollars a year.”
Around the globe, people send close to 10,000 tweets every second, according to data aggregation site InternetLiveStats. While this would immediately overwhelm Ethereum or Bitcoin, Solana — capable of 65,000 transactions per second — would be able to take it in its stride. Those speeds have helped make the world’s fifth-largest blockchain the latest darling of the altcoin world; breaking into the crypto top 10 in recent months by gaining over 1000% in a matter of months to reach an all-time high of US$260 just before the Breakpoint Conference, according to CoinMarketCap.com.
“The thing that makes Ethereum secure is you can’t buy enough GPUs to hack it; you literally can’t get enough electrical power anywhere in the world to run enough hash power to interfere with Bitcoin, right?” said Federa, explaining that Bitcoin’s security comes from thermodynamic energy expressed via proxy for how hard it is to solve math problems. “That’s kind of where those bases of security come from. Solana’s basis as a proof-of-stake system … requires dozens of orders of magnitude less energy to use and to operate. But that means that it’s a higher throughput chain, it’s a higher throughput system, so you can really deliver those Web 2.0 style user experiences on a decentralized Web 3.0 system.”
To someone who is reading this article — hopefully — this distinction between the power requirements of different consensus mechanisms makes sense. But with an industry as technically complex as blockchain, developers and adopters may have a difficult time communicating the nuance of the technology to people who are outside of the community with grave concerns for the environment.
As someone working within social media and blockchain, Zalatimo welcomes the news of the US$100 million investment between Solana labs Seven Seven Six to build decentralized social media platforms on the network (see part one of this article) but just hopes that it is expansive enough to truly break through the mold of what has been seen before.
“We shouldn’t be thinking about social media or redoing something that exists today,” Zalatimo said. “We should be thinking about just new stuff altogether. What are the new things that we’re going to be able to do that we can’t do today, instead of how we’re going to do things that we’re doing today better? As long as the concept of social media is kept in the abstract sense … whatever that will be is a great start and [this investment] definitely helps fuel the fire.”