What is the answer to combatting online abuse? Harmful bullying behavior which includes posting rumours, threats, sexual remarks, a victims’ personal information, or pejorative labels? In this post I present a simple answer. Read on to find out more.
An international consensus is growing. A collective agreement that the potentially corrosive power of modem communications threatens democracy. But given the sheer volume of content on Google, Facebook and Twitter, how can we stem the tide of abuse, cyberbullying and cyber harassment. This has unfortunately become increasingly common, especially among teenagers.
There’s a simple answer to help prevent abuse. Crack down on the online anonymity that allows this abuse to flourish.
Across different forms of anonymous social media there are varying degrees of anonymity. Some applications require users to sign up for an account, even though their profile is not linked to their posts. While they still remain anonymous, these sites might sync up to the user’s contact list or location to develop a context within the social community and help personalize the user’s experience. Other sites, such as 4chan and 2channel, allow for a more pure form of anonymity as users are not required to make any kind of account, and posts default to the username of ‘Anonymous’. While users can still be traced through their IP address, there are anonymizing services like I2P and Tor that encrypt a user’s identity online by running it through different routers.
Tech companies have taken some small steps in this direction. For example, Twitter issues a blue badge to accounts it regards as “verified” (though the criteria are opaque). And Facebook has a similar scheme. But it’s not enough. We need to make verification stronger. It should really be a right and not a privilege. We need to establish a new norm to help prevent abuse. This will allow us to only read emails and engage on social media with fellow authenticated accounts. We can treat anonymous messages with the suspicion they deserve. The tech companies are dragging their feet on this. Anonymity helps to flatter their figures; about 13% of Facebook accounts are fake. But it’s in their long-term interest, as much as ours, to sort this out.
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