It’s social media identity verification time

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The torrent of racial abuse targeting black England players has led some, led by media personality Katie Price, to request identity verification when using social media. The petition is already on its way to a million signatures, showing the idea is popular.

The UK government has already rejected the proposal. While not a legal requirement, I want social media sites to improve safety and security as they mature in important public spaces. These are the milestones that my industry, e-commerce (including peer-to-peer “social” sites like eBay), took years ago. Without these steps, many would not be comfortable using ecommerce sites. Social media sites must now do the same.

The Internet is young and is still a work in progress. Part of this progress is increasing safety and standards so that they are safe spaces for all. Just as an e-commerce transaction cannot be anonymous because there is money at stake, social media should not be anonymous because personal safety and the resilience of the company are at stake.

I remember in 2002, having hesitated to put the details of my card on the Amazon site. I’m sure many will be just as hesitant to scan their passport or driver’s license to log into Facebook or Twitter.

This hesitation is understandable, but just as verification and security protect e-commerce from scammers, social media can be cleansed of trolls.

Ultimately, social media is more like e-commerce than many realize. It is a market for ideas rather than products. If you want to trade in this market, you shouldn’t require anonymity during the trade unless you are up to nothing good.

It may be seen as an assault on civil liberties, or as the government said in its response, something that ‘will interfere with freedom of speech’, but many of the worst trolls are, according to the England football manager Gareth Southgate, actually foreigners. robots. It is not beyond the realm of the possibility – or even the likelihood – of foreign actors seeking to create social divisions in England and elsewhere by abusing the freedom of expression offered by social media.

Social media apps appear on a smartphone.
ERIC BARADAT / AFP via Getty Images

Identity checks would wipe out foreign bots and trolls overnight, simply because, even when there are individuals behind this automated activity, they coordinate a large number of accounts. Surely this one-time administration task is a small price to pay for all of us, football stars and everyone else, to enjoy social media without a troll?

We wouldn’t even need to share our ID with the social media sites themselves – many users (perhaps ironically) don’t trust Big Tech and have been subject to data breaches in the past.

Fortunately, there are many eKYC, or electronic Know Your Customer companies, that take care of quickly and securely checking credentials remotely as part of opening accounts with banks or securities brokers, everything as there are payment gateways like PayPal that allow us to do business with companies that we don’t know or trust.

They would, I’m sure, more than happy to provide their services on social media. They also offer a “burn after verification” process so that there isn’t even the risk of future data leaks compromising individuals’ credentials.

For people without access to identity documents (to whom the UK government was referring when referring to the impact on ‘vulnerable users’ of identity verification), they could be offered limited experience on social networks where they can only DM or comment on friends’ posts. and family, and not on the profiles of public figures.

It is not a divine right to send your thoughts directly to a footballer’s personal iPhone. Those who are unable or unwilling to identify themselves can continue to use social media to contact family and friends and access information about their local communities or schools.

This would be equivalent to browsing freely (and anonymously) on an e-commerce site. It is only when a person wants to close a transaction (equivalent in social media terms to engaging with a public figure in a debate) that they have to go through checks and balances.

Social media sites have proven that they can practically eliminate harmful content like COVID disinformation. There also doesn’t seem to be the same pressure on them to remove racism from their platforms. It doesn’t take a particularly sophisticated algorithm to know that if an account comments with 20 monkey emojis on the status of a black footballer, he is trolling and his comment should be blocked.

But in the absence of algorithmic solutions, maybe it’s time for us to put our name on our comments and DMs. And if we’re more comfortable in the shadows, maybe we should move to sites like Gab and Discord that welcome trolls and neo-Nazis, but not star footballers.

Dominic Wells is CEO of Onfolio, a platform for investors to profit from online activities.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.


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