Half a million people are calling for ID to be compulsory to make a social media account
But others are saying it actually might not be a good idea
When England lost the Euro 2020 final on Sunday, the national mood dipped significantly. But what was more upsetting, was the barrage of abuse faced by three black players following the final whistle.
Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka, who all missed their penalty kicks, immediately found themselves subject to vile racist abuse online. Many other people of colour were subject to similar abuse, up and down the country.
Now, over half a million people have signed a petition demanding that social media accounts are linked to forms of identification, so as to ensure the perpetrators of online abuse can be tracked down and face consequences for their actions.
Here’s a rundown of how that could work and what people are saying the potential problems with the system could be:
Connecting an ID to a social media account could reduce online abuse
The petition, originally started by Katie Price in response to the online abuse levelled at her own son Harvey, calls for “the removal of anonymity to ensure that users cannot cause harm by using online platforms to abuse others.
“Where an offence has taken place, they ought to be easily identified and reported to the police and punished.”
But despite the petition’s recent growth in popularity, the government has already responded to it, saying: “User ID verification for social media could disproportionately impact vulnerable users and interfere with freedom of expression.”
Many people on Twitter are calling for IDs to be connected to accounts
One thing we must do. It is now time for all social media accounts to be verified with official ID of account owner. Otherwise it’s just an unregulated cesspit. It will also weaken divisive politics. Silence the hate.
— Adil Rashford Saka Sancho 💙 (@adilray) July 12, 2021
Make it mandatory to link an ID to a social media account and watch 99% of these racist comments disappear
— Luke (@Lukedutchh) July 11, 2021
ID verification to set up any sort of social media account seems like a no brainer to me? Why are we still letting tossers online hurl abuse at anyone they please without any repercussions? It’s a no brainer to me. Verify yourself or you can’t use the app. What are we doing here.
— James Arthur (@JamesArthur23) July 12, 2021
But for some social media users, anonymity is vital
Many people using social media benefit greatly from being able to anonymous online.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden argued against the introduction of IDs for social media accounts, saying: “It is very important for some people – for example, victims fleeing domestic violence and children who have questions about their sexuality that they do not want their families to know they are exploring. There are many reasons to protect that anonymity.”
And other social media users who don’t have access to ID could end up being marginalised
Lots of people don’t have access to ID for a number of reasons, including the fact that it’s often very expensive. A provisional driving license costs £35 in the UK while a passport can cost up to £95.
If social media companies demand that users provide ID, many will be marginalised from the online conversation.
Less liberal regimes could use ID registration to target vulnerable groups
While connecting ID to social media accounts could help fight the abuse faced by people in the UK, globally, the system might actually enable governments to target political activists.
Equally, in countries where governments discriminate against groups such as the LGBTQ+ community, ID being connected to social media accounts could open people up to persecution.
Is there a way round it?
Dr Bill Mitchell, director of Policy at BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT told The Evening Standard there is a middle way between anonymity and accountability, saying: “IT experts think these platforms should ask people to verify their real ID behind account handles; at the same time, public anonymity is important to large groups of people and so no-one should have to use their real name online and any verification details behind the account must be rigorously protected.”
Technically any social media post is traceable, it just doesn’t happen consistently in practise
Heather Burns is the policy manager at the Open Rights Group. She told Sky News: “Virtually all of the current wave of abuse is immediately traceable to the individuals who shared it, and social media platforms can hand details to law enforcement.”
The problem is that this doesn’t happen consistently in practise. Twitter only responds to 50 per cent of requests for information from law enforcement bodies in the UK.
So, what is the government doing to curb online hate?
Home Secretary Priti Patel condemned the online abuse faced by England players but was slammed by Tyrone Mings on Twitter for her previous comments around taking the knee.
You don’t get to stoke the fire at the beginning of the tournament by labelling our anti-racism message as ‘Gesture Politics’ & then pretend to be disgusted when the very thing we’re campaigning against, happens. https://t.co/fdTKHsxTB2
— Tyrone Mings (@OfficialTM_3) July 12, 2021
The government has previously threatened social media companies with huge fines if they fail to clamp down on online hate, but The Labour Party is calling on ministers to introduce a stricter Online Harms Bill.
What are social media companies actually doing?
Twitter said that in the 24 hours after the England game, it removed over 1,000 posts and suspended accounts for violating its rules.
Facebook has also enhanced its protection against online abuse on Instagram by deleting more accounts that repeatedly send abusive DMs.
A spokesperson for Facebook told the BBC: “We quickly removed comments and accounts directing abuse at England’s footballers last night and we’ll continue to take action against those that break our rules.”