Freedom of Anonymity on the Internet

Read how a petition started a dialogue and conversation around privacy and identity which has proved challenging governments and the social media giants.

Jul 28, 2021 - 2 min.
Picture of: Gavin Holzman
Gavin Holzman

Katie Price is one of a great number of influencers caught in an identity dilemma. These influencers, whether actors, sports stars or fashion-obsessed teens, are desperate for privacy whilst simultaneously chasing fame, fortune, and followers on social media, and to date, nobody, whether famous or not, has managed to strike the balance.

The events leading up to the petition have made global headlines and strike at a far more pressing social abhorrence, that of racism. Ironically the challenges faced by members of society that suffer racist abuse are getting the airtime to amplify the anti-racism message because of the very racist discourse now being spewed across these very same social platforms. There is no room for racism or discrimination of any kind in today’s metropolitan society, but when three of England’s national heroes, representing their nation at the national sports arena, are victims of hate, or a seven-time Formula One Champion being targeted with racist abuse, suddenly the issue dominates the headlines and people sit up and take notice.

There are several fundamental human rights and civil liberties issues at play here, and the social media companies are trapped between an increasingly “woke” generation and commercial opportunity. Freedom of speech and the right to have and voice an opinion is sacrosanct, but should that opinion be harmful to others, and how should it be managed by the platform that is responsible for its cut-through? At what point does or should your opinion compromise your social anonymity?

The petition has good intentions as it calls for personal accounts on social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to be linked to a verified form of identification so that in the event of anti-social hate rhetoric being targeted at individuals, the perpetrators can be easily identified. The ID Verification technology that is required to undertake an exercise of this nature exists, and how and at what point social media companies implement it, is a bigger challenge. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson even waded into the debate holding showdown talks with all the platforms, demanding they “up their game”.

Interestingly however, some believe the way social media giants manage and audit audience behaviour and demographic positioning reflects the rich data flow and business intelligence they hold on every single user anyway and that it’s more a data-sharing issue than an identity challenge, and that identifying trolls and racists is easily done even if individuals have not verified their details when creating the account.

Just what and who remain private are not really the issue, it’s a case of in what circumstances their privacy should be protected or not.

The petition has over 680.000 signatures, and in response, Twitter has claimed to have banned over 1.000 posts.

Ultimately kudos should be given to anyone that stands up against racist behaviour, as the smallest voices can make a big difference. Society benefits from different thoughts and opinions; one’s own identity is often a catalyst for one’s opinion, no matter how popular or unpopular and the transparency of this opinion is where this debate is raging and will continue to rage. If we choose to use our digital identity as a megaphone to amplify ideological messaging, those will always argue for greater transparency of said identity. The problem with this transparency is that in its purest sense, it might seem like a good idea, but people change, governments change, and along with change can come exposure to negative and nefarious circumstances. What is popular and acceptable today may not be tomorrow, and the internet is forever.

It’s easy to see why privacy has long been a challenge internet user face. Ensuring we protect our identities against harm is high. The digital economy invests significant sums into internet security, and ID Verification technology is widely used in a number of sectors, but would the implementation of this technology within the social media landscape really change people’s behaviour?


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