What to do with anonymous trolls

The debate over the contents of the draft Online Safety Bill continues.

New plans to protect people from anonymous trolls onlineGOV.UK
The government recognises too many people currently experience online abuse and there are concerns that anonymity is fuelling this, with offenders having little to no fear of recrimination from either the platforms or law enforcement. […]

So today the government is confirming it will add two new duties to its Online Safety Bill to strengthen the law against anonymous online abuse. The first duty will force the largest and most popular social media sites to give adults the ability to block people who have not verified their identity on a platform. A second duty will require platforms to provide users with options to opt out of seeing harmful content.

Sounds reasonable?

Filter out ‘unverified’ accounts, tech giants toldBBC News
The DCMS acknowledged that people use anonymous accounts for a variety of reasons, including whistle-blowing, exploring their sexuality or sharing their experience in an authoritarian company. However, it said users should be given tools to “control who can interact with them”.

But here’s Benedict Evans’s take on it, from a recent newsletter. And even the government agrees that he knows what he’s talking about.

The UK’s content regulation hairball
The UK’s Online Harms Bill began as a pretty sensible and narrowly defined effort to solve one kind of problem: make a list of specific kinds of harmful content, and create an obligation for platform companies to make reasonable best efforts to minimise them. Unfortunately it’s now become a grab bag of hobbyhorses and every random terrible Internet regulation idea from the last decade.

The latest idea is that somehow if the Internet wasn’t anonymous, no one would behave badly, and so big Internet platforms need to give everyone an option to verify their identity, and an option to hide content from people who aren’t verified. This is a bizarre overreach – the UK wants YouTube offer people in Vietnam, Argentina and New Zealand an option to upload passports. Yet since this of course has to be optional, no one will actually do it, so the switch to turn off unverified content will just hide everything and be completely useless. Meanwhile, there have been any number of studies in the last few years demonstrating that the vast majority of problematic accounts are not anonymous anyway. This is regulation by press release – we expect better.

Author: Terry Madeley

Works with student data and enjoys reading about art, data, education and technology.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: