England’s heroic performance in their first final since 1966; Lewis Hamilton’s record-breaking victory at Silverstone after a controversial collision with his main championship rival! Yes, these were two of the finest sporting moments of the summer, but both had their celebrations and chance at building national pride tarnished by what came after on Social Media.
These are just the latest in a far-to-long line of incidents that have reignited the call for stricter restrictions and action from the platforms themselves in dealing with what many (myself included) see as unacceptable discourse. In recent weeks, one that has gained ground is whether users should have to go through an ID verification process before they can post. But, with concerns around data storage, freedom of speech, and many other oppositions, will this be the future for the platforms or a giant misstep that will fail to deal with the underlying issues that urgently need to be addressed.
Here at Embryo, we place great value on respecting each other and providing an inclusive environment. So what are the implications of ID verification, and what are the negative impacts it may have. Is it really the future or potentially a misstep by the industry in dealing with a severe problem with a section of their user base.
Why is ID Verification is the Possible Future
While the Euros were a period of collective enjoyment and with many fantastic highlights both on and off the pitch, it will be remembered just as much for the incidents following the final whistle from a cohort of social media users (I refuse to label them as ‘fans’). One of the most challenging battles against the online abuse that players such as Bukayo Saka, Jadon Sancho, and Marcus Rashford experienced is that many of the abusers hide behind anonymous accounts and usernames. It is this shrouded cloak of anonymity that emboldens users to say and post messages that many of us could not dream of saying. If their profiles were linked to their IDs, then they would be more accountable and less likely to participate in these types of actions.
Many celebrities who have already faced online abuse have spoken out about how damaging it is. Idris Elba was one of the most prominent voices calling for ID verification requirements following the attacks on the England trio claiming in his Instagram post shortly after the match that the process should become “mandatory” for anyone who wants to create an account. Even the UK’s communications regulator, OFCOM, has voiced a resounding rebuke of the social media platforms and their failure to prevent the comments.
Katie Price has seen her petition on this very subject meet and exceed the required number of signatures to force a debt on this very topic in Parliament. Many experts across the tech community agree that it is right to introduce these frameworks onto the platforms, provided they are done securely.
One problem is how easy it is to set up these profiles in the first place. As some have raised, the ability to create a Twitter account in minutes contributes to users being able to burn through profiles with little regard. ID verification would undoubtedly make this a much harder process and reduce the ability to mass create different profiles.
By introducing ID verification, it will make users more accountable for the content they publish. It will make it easier for the platforms and authorities to identify people who use their position to abuse others, spread hate and target individuals. This could be where the current groundswell of opinions forces the social media companies to go.
Why ID Verification May Be a Misstep
The arguments to force accountability for what a person posts online certainly have merit, as discussed above. However, that is only one side of the argument. There are a good number of objections against the introduction of ID verification. These range from questioning if it will have the desired impact or if it will actually cause more harm to the groups it aims to protect all the way to freedom of speech and the logistics of introducing the system. While there are many reasons that ID verification may not be the best answer, here are some of the most important obstacles I have read:
- Research for Voter ID, which is likely based on the same form of ID’s that would be required under this system, show that there is a significantly large number of people without the potentially required forms of ID. In particular within the sections of society that this rule is being put forward to protect.
- Rather than boosting their voice and making the platforms more welcoming, it will turn them into gated communities lacking the representation it values.
- The other barrier for many could be the price to gain the required identification, something that could punish minority communities more than others.
- The numbers without ID is likely to be even higher for users younger than 18, likely to drive them to other platforms. Minority groups such as the LGBTQIA+ have seen young members often using secret profiles to reach out and understand who they are.
- Data security and GDPR rules will represent a minefield of legal responsibilities and duties of care that will likely bog the system down. Any breaches of this process could be costly, both to the victims and to the companies handling the data.
- While it may reduce the abuse on these platforms, it won’t go away. Some will be just as vicious, though in a less obviously identifiable way, while others will take to other, less regulated platforms to express their views. It is unlikely to provide a solution to the wider problem and the underlying causes behind the surge in incidents.
- It may pose a threat to peoples ability to stand up against authority and voice unpopular but valid criticism across a range of issues. It may impact the ability of people to act as whistleblowers if they know that it could be linked back to them so quickly.
So, Is ID Verification the Future or a Misstep
My personal opinion is that while there are advantages to User Identification and the use of an ID verification for accessing these platforms, I think that in practice, it would be rather unworkable and represents a misstep in tackling one of the most important issues of our time.
While action is needed right away to prevent the scenes we witnessed after the Euro final and the British Grand Prix, ID verification is not the silver bullet that we all wish it were. I believe the social media platforms need to work closer with law enforcement and the regulatory bodies in the identification of the worst offenders while continuing to develop their own tools to identify and block harmful content before it is shared with the public. Addressing offline abuse is as important as online abuse, and the two should be seen as going hand in hand.
If the platforms find a way to mitigate the obstacles and ethical dilemmas outlined above, then ID verification may be an important step in making the online world a safer place. For now, I want to see more work done to educate communities, improve the identification of hate posts and the speed at which they are dealt with. That will take a great effort from the platforms themselves, but, given the current attention and the public desire to say that enough is enough, I am hopeful that we will achieve the changes our society demands.