Anonymity Online has been an ongoing issue for many years, and as you probably already know, being unaware of someone’s identity on the Internet can be extremely dangerous; especially if that someone has malicious intentions. Many people are threatened and cyberbullied over the Internet, and numbers are still rising. This is the same for racism and hate speech, and many believe it’s all because of anonymity; why say who you are when you can hide behind a computer screen and become invincible?
Popular social networking websites such as Facebook have concluded that anonymous messages must be banned, after members of the sites have been threatened or even harmed due to people sending anonymous or hidden messages, then asking to meet up. The site will now only allow people to post comments who are regular users; those that have updated personal information onto a profile with a real identity; at the very least, a name and date of birth. The site has recently become more serious about stopping bullying due to increasing links between anonymous messaging conversations and young teenagers being attacked, or even killed.
Other social networking and communication websites are beginning to follow suit, YouTube being hot on the heels of Facebook by disallowing anonymous comments, users must now sign up if they want to join in with debates, and even email servers such as Hotmail are requiring telephone numbers and personal information for users to create an account. However, if anonymity is becoming such a widespread issue, what is stopping people from creating a false identity instead? This way, people can still do whatever they wish over the Internet, and their true identities are unlikely to be found out. If someone wishes to post hate or cyberbully, they are likely to do it with or without an online identity; whether or not they admit to it being them is another story in itself. Social networking website Twitter have claimed that they have held recent trials around abusive tweets, and anonymous online comments can cause real damage offline; with rising numbers of suicide attempts linked to online abuse.
Claire Perry, a member of the Conservative party, said internet firms are not doing enough to tackle bullying and believes that more prosecutions should be put into place for people who make online threats, anonymous or otherwise. She believes that companies should be able to identify who candidates are if they have chosen to send messages under an anonymous name; doing so would decrease the amounts of online bullying, when candidates realise they can no longer do so without being found out and punished. However, that still leaves the issue of people using aliases instead of their real identities; it is not uncommon for people to frame someone they know or materialise a new identity as the online predator rather than taking the blame themselves.
Recently, a survey was held named the ‘Big Broadband Survey’, which questioned regular internet users and revealed more than 7,000 users online habits and opinions; with special focus on anonymity. 49 percent of those surveyed believe that, in case of online abuse, a third party should hold the users details – this way, bullying does not go unpunished. However, these people also believed that it’s acceptable for users to publicly withdraw their identities, because some may be doing so without malicious intent, to protect job security and so on – and why should everyone be punished for the actions of a few people?
In regards to internet safety for children, this survey also proved useful. Britons believe that responsibility lies with the parents (99 percent), schools (99 percent), and broadband holders (78 percent). This means that parents and schools not adapting the correct child safety rules are likely to be the main reason for children accessing both unnecessary material and talking to strangers – less than half of parents admit to using parental controls to block unsuitable material, which means they have no way of protecting their children online, especially since many children are beginning to hide their internet activity from their parents.
Despite many websites taking a stand against anonymity, the UK has yet to make it illegal. However, in countries such as China, anonymous online accounts are being prevented from posting comments or videos on any social networking website. As it is widely known, China is not well known for giving its citizens much elbow room, and now the country are taking a stand against anonymity, in order to stop people from being ‘vulgar’.
Only time will tell if banning anonymity is a step towards the future in the UK; and let’s hope that if it does get banned, this is a big enough stand to stop online bullying and discrimination for good.