While accepting the reality that social media is often a mess, I also happen to be of the opinion that making everyone verify their identity would not be a good solution to this.
Recently, an opinion piece appeared at The Hill, titled Call for ‘universal verification’ on social media.. In it, the author argues that all of the fake news and harassment we currently see on social media would disappear if we could just identify who everyone is, and all of their information.
The ease with which social media accounts are created is a glaring problem. Anonymity, coupled with the powerful voice these platforms give users, has fueled our worst inclinations. Hidden identities sidestep the natural social check, and in such an environment disinformation and hate speech can flourish with no consequence or repercussion.
A policy of universal verification would go a long way in solving this.
Verifying one’s identity should be the cost of admission to these powerful and potentially dangerous tools. As a single requirement, an email or phone number is simply too easy to cloak. Each account needs to have a firm connection to an individual via employment, school, or other verifiable activity.
First off, let’s assume that what he says would actually happen. If everything we said on social media could be tracked back to our identify, our workplace, school, family, etc. there would probably be a lot less fake news and trolling on social media. I would argue that is because there would be a lot less “everything” on social media, including all of the supposed under-represented people who we are trying to protect.
I’ve written before warning people about the Facebook Page tied to this blog. Facebook pages are public. I created that one to give people an option to follow or interact with posts there instead of having to come to the website, but I’ve also given people other options because I know that any activity you take part in on a FB page is going to show up to all of your family and friends. Liking the page, commenting or reacting to posts, etc. is public. People will see that you did it. I know that is not for everyone. Many survivors, or people dealing with mental health issues, are not “public” about it. They aren’t ready to be, or they can’t be for their own safety.
(I have considered a private group where people could join and I would post new blog posts, and share other information, but I’m not sure I trust FB to keep the members private at this point, to be honest) – (update, I did eventually go ahead and create a private group.)
They may use other social networks, or even anonymous accounts to interact with other survivors, to connect with support and information that is crucial to them on social media. Take away that anonymity, and you take away that resource. You take people who are struggling to find their voice, and push them further in to the corners of society. In the name of protecting them from bad stuff, you’re silencing them.
I simply can’t get behind that idea. Too many people are only connected to support because they can be anonymous online. Taking that away would damage them too much.