Online Abuse Back in the News

I covered the subject of online abuse at some length in 2017 – see .

Nothing much has changed since but the subject has again come to public attention by the death of an M.P. and the comments by other M.P.s that they regularly get death threats and other forms of abuse that is making their lives intolerable.

The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has suggested that a ban on anonymity on the internet might be considered. I would certainly be in favour of that.

Anonymity makes policing of the internet impossible, and encourages people to post outrageous comments because they know that they will never be held responsible for them. It is not just abusive comments aimed at politicians, particularly female ones apparently, but at anyone the culprits do not like or do not agree with.

The standard of public debate of all kinds on Twitter, Facebook and other social media is a disgrace and removing anonymity would be a simple way to tackle most of the problems. If the perpetrators knew that they could be easily traced and hence subject to laws on harassment and libel, they would be a lot more careful about what they say. Indeed I would suggest that libel be made a criminal offence not just a civil one.

Stopping anonymity would not be that difficult in practice. The identity of most people can now be checked in a few seconds by such companies as GB Group. It would simply need to be made a legal requirement that people must use their own name when registering for on-line services.

It is surely time to consider such legislation.

Roger Lawson (Twitter:  )

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