Before we get into it, you may be asking: what even is decentralized social media? Decentralized social media refers to networks of social media sites that are not controlled by a single company, just like email in general and the World Wide Web as a whole are not controlled by a single company. Here’s the breakdown:
- Decentralized social media was invented to give individuals and communities more control over their social media experience, including data privacy and algorithms.
- Individual users can pick a site (a “server”) but are not limited to only users on that site. It is analogous to a world where a user on Instagram could “follow” a user on Twitter.
- Each site is moderated and governed by their own administrators and rules. Some sites are run by companies, most sites are run by individuals on a donation or volunteer basis.
- A major consequence of this structure is that my corner of the network may have different rules than your corner of the network, but we can still talk to one another.
- Here is a resource that provides a high-level comparison of centralized vs. decentralized social media.
Decentralized social media is growing as average users leave sites like Twitter in search of more control over their online experience. The fediverse is the largest of these spaces, with third party trackers showing about six million fediverse users, and almost one million of those added in the last month. Verifying accounts on the decentralized web is hard. Really hard. Current solutions by decentralized sites like Mastodon are difficult to scale.
- With no central source of trust currently available on the fediverse, individual users are setting up their own clearinghouses to verify journalists and celebrities (https://fedified.com/, https://www.presscheck.org/). Whether these ad-hoc verification mechanisms can be themselves trusted is a question in itself. Both of the sites are run by private individuals, and both are trying to position themselves as trusted authorities.
The big takeaway: Lack of verification poses a serious problem for misinformation spread on these sites, and the problem will only grow as more people join decentralized spaces. This identity and integrity problem can’t be solved without a multi-stakeholder collaboration. There needs to be concerted work on a standardized verification system built on top of our main source of verification on the present-day internet: the domain name system. Such a solution could be multipart:
- Social media sites of note need to adopt the standard that Mastodon already uses, which will aid in verification of individuals.
- Organizations that rely on public trust must work together to adopt these standards at the organizational level.
- Other standards must be explored and implemented to augment the ones in use. There needs to be a way for an organization to easily, automatically verify that individual social network accounts that claim to be associated with them are in fact telling the truth.
- Online conversations are heavily influenced by news coverage, like the 2022 Supreme Court decision on abortion. The relationship is less clear between big breaking news and specific increases in online misinformation.
- The tweets analyzed were a random sample qualitatively coded as “misinformation” or “not misinformation” by two qualitative coders trained in public health and internet studies.
- This method used Twitter’s historical search API
- The peak was a significant outlier compared to days before it using Grubbs' test for outliers for Chemical Abortion (p<0.2 for the decision; p<0.003 for the leak) and Herbal Abortion (p<0.001 for the decision and leak).
- All our searches were case insensitive and could match substrings; so, “revers” matches “reverse”, “reversal”, etc.
Darius Kazemi is a senior software engineer at Meedan. He is a researcher, former Mozilla Open Web Fellow, and internet artist under the moniker Tiny Subversions. His work focuses on re-decentralizing the internet and empowering communities to set their own norms online.