The Home Secretary claimed MPs face "relentless" abuse on social media.
Priti Patel has suggested that she intends to remove the right to online anonymity in order to stamp out the abuse received by MPs via social media.
Critics of social media have claimed that anonymous profiles can be partially blamed for such instances of abuse, and that some users create accounts with fake aliases and generic images to conceal their identities before launching into tirades of vitriol. Patel spoke with Sky News, alleging that these anonymous accounts need to be addressed to keep politicians from further harm.
The Home Secretary’s comments were particularly poignant, following the death of Conservative MP, Sir David Amess, in an incident now being treated as an act of terrorism.
When asked whether she would consider legislation that’d remove the right to anonymity on social media sites, Patel stated:
I want us to look at everything. And there is work taking place already. But we can't carry on like this.
Abuse in abundance
There’s no denying that social media has a huge part to play in the incubation of hate speech and abusive comments – particularly those directed at marginalized groups. Earlier this year, during the UEFA Euro 2020 Final, three black members of the England football team endured a grotesque amount of racist online abuse. Lewis Hamilton was targeted by similar comments after his performance in the British Grand Prix.
Facebook and Twitter adjusted their hate speech and conduct policies following these events and now use a team of machines and humans to weed out abuse. Individuals who violate the terms of service of these sites risk being de-platformed – like former US President, Donald Trump.
Removing our right to online anonymity, however, will not solve the issue of targeted abuse and hate comments. Instead, Patel’s plan to oust anonymity will surely harm millions of users.
Whilst some individuals may resort to anonymous accounts to foment abuse, plenty of others have valid reasons to refrain from identifying themselves.
Online anonymity protects the most vulnerable people in our communities, and allows victims of modern slavery and domestic abuse to safely tell their stories without fear of reprisal. Similarly, defenders of our human rights, journalists, and whistle-blowers depend on anonymity to do their jobs – particularly if they’re operating under authoritarian regimes.
And whilst it may sound counter-intuitive, the ability to create social media profiles lacking identifiable information (like names and profile pictures), is integral to building support networks and online communities. LGBT peoples have routinely stressed the importance of anonymity as a means of conducting important discussions without the risk of abuse, or even offline violence. Being able to navigate the web discreetly has helped countless people discover their own identities and meet peers in a safe environment.
We see countless individuals making hateful comments on sites like Facebook and Twitter – and a lot of them have no qualms about doing so with their names, photos, job titles, and location information visible to the public.
Anonymity is not the root of the hatred that is so well ingrained in social media platforms, despite Patel’s insistence and nascent plans. Instead, it is the tolerance that these social media giants have for hateful comments and dangerous content that should be addressed.