The price of anonymity

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An anonymous man typing away at his computer. When dealing with social media; many people rely on the anonymity of social media to send hate to people, or to just troll people. Photo by Sora Shimazaki from Pexels.

Everyone knows the internet is full of trolls. That’s not a surprise, especially when dealing with social media; many people rely on the anonymity of social media to send hate to people, or to just troll people and make memes. But there are also safe spaces for minorities online, like queer people and disabled people. There are also communities for people with many different hobbies, especially now, when the pandemic has forced so much of our lives to take place over the internet.  

On the March 11, Katie Price, a media personality from the U.K. who has also worked as a model and has written some books, started a new campaign to send a petition to the U.K. Parliament. This petition calls for effectively removing anonymity on online platforms like Twitter, requiring people to give verified ID when opening a social media account. 

For minors, this would require the verified ID of a parent or guardian to be used in the creation of an account. Price has proposed this massive change to the idea of anonymity on the internet because of trolls going after her son Harvey, who is disabled.  Her idea has been supported by lawmakers including MP Andrew Griffith, who tweeted, “Removing the cloak of anonymity would be a step forward in tackling many of the worst online harms without restricting anyone’s existing freedom of speech under the law.” 

And yet, just because this could be legal under the law doesn’t make it a good idea. There is no question that cyberbullying is a serious issue and that social media platforms need to take more steps to ensure that it is harder for trolls to attack people. However, I remain unconvinced that it is fair to give up the ability of people, especially younger people, to find communities and get to learn about other groups without their parents hanging over their shoulders. 

The response to this proposal was very, very swift on Twitter. #saveanonymity trended on Twitter as people, especially younger people, explained why they were in heavy opposition to this proposal. Many of them, especially those who identified under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella, noted that having to share their social medias with their parents would either forcibly out them, which can be dangerous, or force them to not use their social media in a way that allowed them to be open about who they were, which eliminates most of the benefit. 

In a year in which most of our lives are now taking place digitally, and safe spaces in real life for minority youth are functionally nonexistent in an effort to keep the coronavirus away, teenagers have turned to the internet for community. The internet can be a place where people of all ages can gain information about different groups that they themselves belong to or think they could belong to, or to share stories and get support for issues they’re facing.  

In the U.K., which still allows conversion therapy although efforts are now being made to ban that harmful “therapy,” forcing LGBTQIA+ youth by this proposed law to either suppress their identities or be forcibly outed to their parents would have devastating impacts on far too many people. 

Katie Price is right that something needs to be done in order to ensure that social media platforms can be safe places for people, yet, this is not the way to do that. This proposal would simply put more people, especially the young people Price wants to protect, at risk. A balance needs to be struck between trying to avoid trolls and trying to protect vulnerable people who deserve access to communities, especially now when the only way to have community is online. 

Katie Price is a mother who, rather reasonably, is upset about the way her child is treated by internet trolls. But that is not a fair reason to go to this level of extreme in an effort to curb this problem. That might make the internet safer for some people, although I sincerely do not think it would eliminate the problem, but the cost to other people’s safety is too high. 

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