One of the main reasons I was initially attracted to use Steem is its independence and decentralisation - after years of being delisted and outright censored on G+ and Facebook, a blockchain based solution seemed ideal. As a system engineer/designer and also someone who always looks for exploits and all angles in systems - I would like to focus now on some issues relating to system security and also relating to bid bots.. Plus propose yet another painless way we can solve the issues involved and improve Steem.
New users to Steem fairly quickly learn that the potentially utopian, non-hierarchical ideal of an 'anarchist' social network they may have imagined is not exactly what Steem is. The 'anarcho capitalist' aspect is not tempered by enough checks and balances to prevent the wealth level of users from being able to dominate the 'reach' and exposure of posts on the network. Far from being a true implementation of the 'proof of brain' concept that serves as one of Steem's unique selling points, the reality is that 'proof of wallet' will trump 'proof of brain' every time here.
As long as a bigger wallet translates to bigger reach on the network and higher positions on the trending page, the 'proof of brain' becomes harder to find in a sea of posts that only prove the presence of money on the part of the poster.
It could be argued that this is the price that the network's users have to pay in exchange for being paid to blog and post whatever they like. Instead of having to watch a few seconds of random video adverts on Youtube, they instead have to sift through paid posts from all manner of people who have bought their way into the trending pages. As long as there is desire to be high in the rankings, there will be desire for Steem Power and the price of Steem can increase, which is good for all users.
So this is the basic dynamic that has drawn great debate right through Steem's life so far.
While some might come here mainly to 'make money', the uncensored nature of the system also draws those who are seeking to spread information without being held back. This is ultimately where the ability to buy votes becomes even more of a significant problem. While using bid bots can force us to see posts that are artificially boosted and which do not truly reflect the will of the community, there is an even more problematic outcome. It is possible for malicious actors to stifle free speech and prevent the free flow of information here, just as they already do on the mega corporate networks.
How To Ruin Steem With Bots and Money
- Buy enough Steem to give you enough power to run a bid bot.
- Run a bid bot.
- Receive new funds from running your bid bot.
- Use your growing resource pool to boost your own posts and those of your team, drowning out those who you don't want to be heard.
- Make sure your bot dominates the other bots and becomes the 'go to' service for vote buying.
- Introduce arbitrary blacklisting of those you want to silence, so that they can't buy votes from you.
- Add your opponents to lists run by 'anti spam' bots to ensure that they get extra negative PR and even justify auto downvoting them into oblivion.
- Build your Steem Power and a network of sockpuppet accounts to allow you to produce a lot of pointless content that distracts the community away from the material that you want to suppress.
If you can't make enough money from Steem directly, find money from elsewhere.
Now, if this is just an individual actor or a small group - the chances are that their effects will be limited. But what if the actor is a state/government with access to an infinite money printing machine? Aka fiat currency? Or even just an oligarch or someone like Marc Zuckerberg?
Effectively, it could be possible for a secret service related to such a group to setup the scenario I have highlighted and to carefully control the finances involved such that their investment into the tokens doesn't really benefit anyone much except for them (in the long term) and achieves their goal of controlling the free flow of information too.
How much is control of the free flow of information worth to those who are highly motivated to do so? What if they have almost unlimited money? Why would they not have a go at such control?
Those who have shared 'controversial' material on mainstream social networks, that dissents from the mainstream narrative on key subjects, will possibly already know that great resources are already employed to silence such messages.
How can we really defend against this on Steem?
Even without bid bots this takeover attack could still be possible just with Steem Power, but it might be more noticeable and difficult to pull off. So while the idea of moving all posts that use bid bots to their own list of 'promoted' posts is a good one anyway, it might not be enough to fully secure the free and honest flow of information here.
What if? What if we had a way of building a kind of 'mute' list, just as we already do in steemit.com, but where we can mute the voting effect of VOTERS? This would have the effect of us viewing trending lists without the influence of voters that we strongly disagree with or just see as being manipulative in some way. This would also allow us to black list bots too. The resulting trending/hot lists would be re-ordered so that the payout/reward levels displayed for each post are adjusted so that the voters we choose to mute no longer effect them. This would make the trending/hot lists take a different order for each Steemian, based on their choice of whose votes to mute.
From a programming perspective, this would not be too tough to do, the only issue is that of the processing overhead required to produce custom trending/hot lists based on each user's own preferences and 'mute voter' lists.
The interface need be no more complicated than the existing 'mute' features, except that the list being built is a 'mute voter' list instead. Then, lists such as trending could have a filter flag option that allows us to either view the list with or without our 'muted voter' list engaged. If we have chosen to mute all bots, then we will no longer see their effects. Perfect!
Think of how Facebook allows users to easily and quickly manage their follow/block lists and even snooze people. This could all be performed in a similar way, from within feeds using drop down menus - to add / remove voters from the 'vote mute' list.
Not only does this solve bid bots on a per user basis - but it maintains the principle of free will since no-one is being overpowered by the feature and everyone can have the version of Steem that they personally want to experience!
What do you think? Would this Improve Your Experience of Steem and Your Confidence in Investing here?
Wishing you well,
Vote @ura-soul for Steem Witness!
(Witnesses are the computer servers that run the Steem Blockchain.
Without witnesses there is no Steem, Steemit, DTube, Utopian or
Busy... You can really help Steem by making your 30 witness votes count!)