Discourse on social media can be pretty ugly and it happens on every platform. People are called every name in the book, they can be shamed, slandered or have private personal information posted by others. Extremists on every end of the political spectrum use social media in order to spread their vile messages and to organize violent and destructive actions. The common denominator on pretty much every social media platform is that they have anonymous accounts and that is the root of the problem.
Most of us play reasonably. Sure we get worked up now and then online and say regrettable things now and then. There is a population out there comprised of anonymous trolls however. They are in a tiny minority but they can dominate and destroy discourse as they obsessively post and spawn accounts faster than the accounts can be banned. They are cowards and the only thing which will stop them is to take away the shroud of anonymity that they hide behind.
In a relatively recent incident within Canada, there was a self-styled twitter ninja out there who vitriolically and tirelessly trolled public figures online. He bragged of the number of elected officials who had blocked him. He felt courageous and bold. He felt he was an online warrior for the left. Then he was exposed. Somebody had figured out who he really was an expose him. The transformation was instant. Suddenly he was an apologetic pussycat. He remains online now but is pretty subdued. Without the craven cloak of anonymity, he really was nothing. He tweets under “Neil before Zod” or something like it if you want to check out the rather pathetic story.
I am not big on doxing folks but the tale of poor Neil did prove a valuable point, loss of anonymity defangs trolls.
People are leaving many social media platforms because they simply can’t handle all the rage and venom any longer. This is sad as social media can make such a fantastic platform for open dialogue between people of different views.
Another problem is that selective culling by some social media platforms of people with conservative views is creating polarized echo chambers. Little will be learned or gained from platforms which only support one political leaning or another.
Governments are using online vitriol as an excuse to implement controls upon dialogue. This is very dangerous territory which puts our free speech under terrible threat. The truly extreme will simply go deeper underground while other people will find themselves under the gun for posts in poor taste or context. We don’t need the state to deal with this. The cure will be far worse than the disease.
The solution to this problem is to have a platform which verifies the users. It is understandable for many people to want to hide their real name when online. Posts may impact their jobs or they may find themselves being stalked. That said, a platform could give accounts to people with verified identities while still masking the name. This still solves the problem of bot and false troll accounts. A person can only make one and they will know that they are very easily identified if they cross the line into criminal abuse, incitement or slander. Rest assured this will calm many of them down.
This is easier said than done. Some sort of identification would need to be used to verify accounts and that means the platform needs to be secure and trustworthy. This is possible though. People don’t think twice before giving their personal information to Amazon and countless other online purchase points. A social media platform should be able to provide that kind of security.
Verification doesn’t assure that a person will be nice. My twitter account is verified and rest assured, I am still an asshole on there. Right now though, verification is only granted to people who the platform considers to be a “person of public interest”. Platforms need to broaden verification abilities so that anybody can verify their identity. Ironically, Parler was doing just that and they had the rug yanked from them.
We don’t need more laws and we don’t need speech police. We just need some voluntary controls on social media platforms which would eliminate the anonymity which cloaks the small but damaging troll army out there.
Unfortunately, we may speech being limited by the state before people realize that it didn’t need to be done.
Rights lost are really hard to regain.
Just look where our mobility and association rights went.