Thoughts on Social Media Anonymity
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I recently saw a tweet about social media anonymity:
As part of this discussion, and my answering of a couple of questions for the post, I ended up writing a fair few thoughts, so thought I may as well publish them.
The post that Hannah is writing for is related to a government Bill, but as I am a Civil Servant, I must remain politically impartial. I would like to make it clear that I have only answered the below questions, and will not share any thoughts on the government's Bill.
What is your stance on getting rid of social media anonymity? And why?
I am against the removal of anonymity, and respect the right for all people to have access to anonymous forms of social media.
When we commonly talk about social media, we generally think about Twitter and Facebook. However, social media (at least to me) is much wider than this. From Club Penguin, to Tumblr, to Reddit to chat applications like WhatsApp, Telegram and Signal, but could even be argued to include email.
Although we are seeing hate speech, trolling, personal attacks, and other hateful and abusive practices, there is also a tonne of good that anonymity provides. I would instead make a push for platforms to invest in moderation and support tooling to make it easier to protect those experiencing attacks, rather than assuming that anonymity is the only reason that hateful speech is being shared.
Although anonymity and the ease of creating new social media profiles makes it more noticeable online, we can also see from the state of the world that there are those who are happy sharing hateful thoughts out there in the offline world, or the "meatspace" as it is sometimes called. Removing anonymity does not have an impact with those people, so it's unlikely it would prevent it happening online.
Anonymity has a lot of positive impacts, too.
For instance, someone who is suffering domestic abuse and sets up an anonymous email account to be able to safely chat with others, and be able to escape the situation. If anonymity was removed, this could allow the abuser, or those close to them, to find the account.
See also people who are exploring their gender and sexual identity, for instance in a country where being gay is a crime. Being able to safely discuss with others, get help and build a support network is really important, and having their "meatspace" identity tied to the account would be incredibly dangerous.
We should focus on providing spaces that allow for better filtering of notifications, allowing protection from harmful comments and personal attacks where possible, and tools to report infractions to the platform. These will better support those being abused on social media, while retaining the supportive communities for those who do not need to prove who they are.
How do you think removing social media anonymity would change the landscape of social media?
I personally believe that removing anonymity will introduce more problems than it solves. As mentioned above, there are a lot of meaningful reasons for why having anonymous social media access is beneficial.
We will still see hateful comments, trolling, and other unsociable activities. We will just know who the human behind it is. We'll know who they are, and where they work. We may be able to tell on them to their employer, or their family, but the fact that they're happy making those comments with their name and face associated means they likely do not care about the repercussions of their comments.
I feel this will harm online communities that enjoy a mix of personal privacy, and allowing "throwaway" accounts that can be used to talk to the community about sensitive matters, and lead to a space where we need to move to potentially "unregulated" social media platforms, which will allow anonymity, but will be likely to not make it possible to protect users from harassment.