ARTICONF, a pan-European consortium of universities and small businesses, was awarded €4,2 million European Union Horizon 2020 grant in January 2019 to create a next generation social media platform that contributes to the better use of resources through sharing and collaboration.
A major issue with today’s social media is that they are on centralised platforms, and they are easy to manipulate. The spread of disinformation/misinformation is fuelling polarised views, generating distrust and misleading consumers.
Professor Radu Prodan at the University of Klagenfurt and ARTICONF Coordinator : “Social media today does not live up to its promise .Our aim is to create decentralised networks so no single operator or entity has control of the entire network. Instead, everyone controls their own data and can decide with whom they want to share it, connect with and trust”.
Blockchain & social networks
ARTICONF is developing a generic platform that supports existing or new social networks using blockchain technology to create and consolidate trust among users.
Blockchain federates social media networks allowing them to become user run and controlled. Users democratically decide what data they need to provide access to and are able to track who uses it and how.
Professor Radu Prodan : “We are using blockchain technology with enhanced capabilities to determine trust based on an anonymous person’s activities, defined as a sequence of objective and immutable transactions agreed by the community.”
While transactions remain immutable for reputation auditing purposes, the blockchain network does not store personal data, only the reference to the encrypted data items stored onto personal resources (e.g. cloud storage). This allows users to have complete control over their data; they can decide who to share it with and can revoke the share later.
Such trustworthy and transparent social networks could help connect producers and consumers so they can get what they need from each other, instead of going to large organizations or intermediaries.
ARTICONF’s blockchain platform is currently being customised for four SME-led ‘use cases’ and is expected to lead to new applications for crowdsourcing and validating news, generating video dialogue, car sharing and managing smart energy production and consumption.
These are just a few areas in which social media networks can become vehicles for the collaborative economy, whereby human and physical resources are shared for the production and consumption of goods and services. It has been estimated that the potential economic gain linked with a better use of resources through sharing and collaboration in Europe is around €572 billion a year.
The potential contribution of decentralised blockchain social media platforms to the collaborative economy
Dr Kate Orton-Johnson, digital sociologist at the University of Edinburgh : “In principle, decentralised social media networks could open up revenue streams for people who were previously giving their data away for free and contribute to a more collaborative approach to our technology use“.
Orton-Johnson and colleagues will explore whether decentralised social media networks are better at upholding values cherished in the EU such as freedom of speech and equality, while fully respecting privacy and security. As the project develops, they will also examine whether these networks open up revenue streams for people who were previously giving their data away for free and thus, encourage entrepreneurship.
Although the initial excitement about blockchain seems to have worn off, the technology is maturing and many applications outside of the cryptocurrency space are being explored. In addition to the use cases that ARTICONF is working on, progress in other areas such as e-learning and food tracking are providing real-life (and close-to-market) examples of how blockchain can be used.
Blockchain technology remains expensive in terms of computational costs, but Prodan has no doubt that the investment is necessary for users to reclaim control of social media and unleash its full potential.
ARTICONF members shared the first prototypes of their work at a meeting in Porto in October 2019 and are part of the recently established EU Social Media Cluster that connects several European computer science projects to strengthen cooperation and share best practice.
Following a project review in March 2020, the first prototype platform is expected to be released in mid-2020. ARTICONF tools will be provided as open source, licensed under the Apache License. Open source development of use case software will subject to permission by the industrial partners.
• EU Project : ARTICONF
• A scientist’s opinion : Interview with Radu Prodan about the future of Social Media Networks
• A scientist’s opinion : Interview with Kate Orton-Johnson about the sociological context of digital technologies