Give social media users powers to block anonymous unverified accounts, urge MPs

Charles Hymas
·3 min read
Hand typing on a laptop computer at night - Andrew Brookes /Cultura RF 
Hand typing on a laptop computer at night - Andrew Brookes /Cultura RF

Social media users should get powers to block anonymous “unverified” accounts to prevent the flood of online abuse that is “ruining people’s lives,” say MPs.

Maria Miller, the former Culture Secretary, is leading a cross-party campaign for social media firms to enable individuals to set up a “verified” account by supplying personal identification that would then allow them to filter out “unverified” users.

The campaign, launched on Tuesday by the cross-party group Compassion in Politics, is calling for the measure to be included in the Government’s new duty of care laws and is backed by exclusive polling which shows more than eight in 10 people support the change.

Ms Miller, who was also minister for women and equalities, said: “Abuse, bullying, and harassment on social media platforms is ruining lives, undermining our democracy, and splintering society.

“The upcoming Online Harms Bill must deal with the problem of anonymous social media accounts. I support a twin-track system: giving social media users the opportunity to create a ‘verified’ account by supplying a piece of personal identification and the ability to filter out ‘unverified’ accounts.

“This approach would need to be coupled with enforcement and I believe that can be achieved by introducing a duty of care on social media companies.

“For too long social media companies have escaped liability for the harm they cause by citing legal loopholes, arguing they are platforms for content not producers or publishers.

“The legal environment that has facilitated social media companies' growth is not fit for purpose – it must change to better reflect their previously unimaginable reach and influence.”

The campaign cited a recent high-profile case where the majority of racial abuse sent on Twitter to a group of black footballers – including the Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford – was found to be from anonymous accounts.

A poll of more than 2,000 adults by Opinium for Compassion in Politics found 81 per cent of social media users said they would be willing to provide a piece of personal identification to a social media platform in order to receive a “verified” account.

Most social media platforms require only an email address, leaving them free to create an account in which all the other information is fake including name, profile picture, location, and biography.

The proposed new system would split social media into two groups. All verified users would be given the option to block unverified users and to never see content from those accounts.

Nearly three quarters (72 per cent) of those surveyed said they would choose to remove all unverified user-content from their feed if that option was available. The same proportion (72 per cent) said they would like social media firms to delete or suspend more problem users.

Ellis Genge gets death threats after Wales loss
Ellis Genge gets death threats after Wales loss

Debbie Abrahams MP, co-Chair of Compassionate Politics, said: “As social media platforms have grown so has the problem but unfortunately the law has been very slow to catch up.

“It has reached the stage where we need Government intervention to protect lives and create safe online communities where everyone is welcome, respected, and included.”

The Government has so far resisted demands for a ban on anonymity which is why the group has proposed a voluntary twin-track approach.

It maintains there are benefits to anonymity in, for example, protecting victims of domestic violence fleeing a perpetrator or someone exploring their sexuality who might not want their family to know.