The world’s eyes turned in excitement to the battle between Elon Musk’s Twitter and Mark Zuckerberg’s Threads, but users emerged as the real losers.
When Threads launched on July 5, it reported gaining more than 100 million organic users in the first five days, and it became clear the public was interested. The ease of transition, familiarity and the fact they didn’t need to learn new tech was enough to stop them from thinking: “Why even choose between the bad and the worse?”
As we happily hopped platforms, taking data from one multibillionaire and handing it to another, we missed the real issue. Twitter CEO Elon Musk and Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg are the winners, but the users keep losing.
The costs Threads users are bearing to facilitate the transition amounts to billions of dollars. But they choose to do so with a clueless enthusiasm of abandoning the platform where users pay for verification and deal with limits on the number of posts they can read. “Stick it to the man” (by giving in to another one…). Who promised that Threads won’t impose the same practices, forcing users to either accept the social media big brother or move to yet another platform? Maybe it wouldn’t be all that bad.
Teams behind blockchain-based social media and decentralized identities slept through an opportunity to work together and change how social networking approaches verification alongside profile and data ownership. With only recent promises to create a decentralized version of Reddit, we are too late on education and infrastructure to house the homeless Twitter outcasts. There is nothing left than to accept the easy, accessible Threads. But what exactly are we losing?
Profile portability and data management
Should you be able to be the same you, no matter what platform and provider you’re using?
Decentralized ID, or self-sovereign identity, is a form of identification or a digital profile. But in contrast to centralized accounts, the profiles, and related data, remain under users’ control. It’s like having a Google or Facebook account, using it to log into various applications and sites without being dependent on Google or Facebook as the sole providers and entities storing your data.
If Twitter and Threads used decentralized IDs, moving from one platform to another would be as easy as plugging your USB stick (remember those?) into a new laptop. But it isn’t like this. Why? Zuckerberg thrives on data sales. Twitter doesn’t monetize data to the same degree, but naturally, it does not want to give its data or users to a competitor.
Twitter users worldwide, 2019-2024. Source: Statista
Self-sovereign identity means no data unless users consciously hand it to you. But most won’t do so without getting paid for the value they’re providing. Twitter and Threads don’t want to be losers. As long as they dominate the news space, they’re giving the alternative solutions no chance of getting through. They remain the winners.
The transition of a large proportion of the Twitter community to Threads required a complete restart and setting up a profile without prior verification, which also led to scams and liabilities. Within the Web3 community, which used Twitter as its prime medium of communication, scammers jumped at the opportunity, creating profiles of companies and influencers for their financial gain. Those users didn’t swap to Threads — was that their fault?
Should companies and influencers be forced to create placeholder Threads profiles as a precaution against imposters? In the Web2 world, yes. But had only Threads used self-sovereign identity, users could have easily verified whether the IDs used to create the new profiles were owned by companies and persons they claim to belong to.
Another reason users are losing the Twitter and Threads battle is central authority. The often mysterious requirements to be verified and decisions regarding content bans lay in the centralized hands of the platforms’ teams led by their CEO. Decentralized social media offers an alternative.
Platforms that function as decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) allow their communities to make decisions on community guidelines, such as how to deal with bots and whether or not to flag or ban fake news or troll content.
When decentralized IDs come into play, decentralized verification mechanisms will also emerge. With blockchain, you could offer users the opportunity to earn reputation points for being active in the community or sharing valuable content. They could earn leadership or governance roles and help navigate the platform as the social network grows. It’s an alternative to mysterious, centrally designed algorithms used by popular platforms.
The above sounds promising, right? So, how do we make it a reality?
The Twitter/Threads battle should be a wake-up call for projects working on decentralized social media and decentralized ID providers to come together, enter partnerships and create self-sovereign, data appropriation-free alternatives to making the rich even richer. They must not only work on the tech but also show the public that there is another route. One of the ways to do so is by helping users see the value of their data, help them monetize it, and make it worth the platform-hopping cost. The network effects will do the rest, and users will become the real winners.
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