Social media giants such as Facebook and Twitter should require users to verify their identities following the racist abuse of England players after their Euro 2020 final defeat, according to a group of tech professionals.
Despite boycotts and some technical changes from big tech companies, many people still see social media as “a consequence-free playground for racial abuse,” according to Dr Bill Mitchell OBE, director of policy at BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT in London.
“Platforms should ask people to verify their real ID behind account handles; at the same time, public anonymity is important to large groups of people and so no one should have to use their real name online and any verification details behind the account must be rigorously protected,” he argued.
Celebrities from former model Katie Price to Manchester Utd captain Harry Maguire and Arsenal legend Thierry Henry also called on social media companies to demand proof of genuine names and other ID, as a means to track trolling.
According to a poll of the IT industry carried out by BCS earlier this year, most tech experts (64 per cent) want platforms like Twitter and Facebook to ask for real ID, making people accountable for what they post.
Around a quarter (26 per cent) said users should remain unverified, and 10 per cent were undecided.
More than half of tech experts polled (56 per cent), including senior leaders and academics, said linking social media accounts to true identities is technically achievable. Only 26 per cent indicated it is not achievable and 17 per cent were neutral.
Half (50 per cent) said social media companies themselves should have the main responsibility for reducing online abuse.
Just one in five (19 per cent) thought an independent regulator should have that role. 17 per cent thought it was the responsibility of individual users, 5 per cent stated it was the job of government to lead on the reduction of trolling and 4 per cent felt it should be led by the police.
They added that verified identity details should not have to be part of users’ public profiles. This would keep the anonymity needed for legitimate protest, minority groups or whistleblowing.
A majority (76 per cent) of tech professionals said they would also support optional verification of social media ID, if that was the solution eventually introduced in the forthcoming Online Harms Bill.
90 per cent said it should be made simple for social media users to see and turn off all unverified accounts.
“We can prevent social media being an anonymous playground for racism, homophobia and hate speech. Tech experts want users to be accountable for what they say, and they see few technical barriers to verifying the real ID behind account handles,” said Dr Bill Mitchell.
“At the same time, public anonymity is important to large groups of people, especially those in difficult or dangerous situations or who are vulnerable to targeted abuse. No one should have to use their real name online and any verification details behind the account must be rigorously protected,” he noted.
“We need those affected by such a change to be part of the debate to make sure there are ethical and secure solutions for verifiable ID available for all types of social media, Mitchell concluded.