Racist slurs, rape threats, sexual harassment. The internet is awash with vile abuse posted by anonymous trolls. The effect is to deter people – especially women and minorities who are most often the subject of attack – from engaging online for fear of the torrent of digital hatred that will ensue, not to mention actual physical attack. To many people there is a straightforward way to deal with this problem: we should remove the cloak of online anonymity by forcing social media companies to impose ID checks on users when they sign up. Users could still use pseudonyms when they communicate but if they engage in hate speech or incitement, their victims would have recourse to the law.
That would be a mistake, claim those opposed to a ban on anonymity. Social media may appear to be a maelstrom of faceless trolls hurling abuse, but in myriad ways, they argue, the internet is still living up to its original promise to be a place where people can express themselves without judgment, whether it is a gay person from a strictly religious background exploring their indentity in a chatroom or an anxious teenager seeking support from a self-help forum. Online anonymity also allows whistle blowers and activists to speak out without fear of harmful consequences to themselves, and it enables undercover journalists to join groups and expose wrongdoing.
Would banning online anonymity help rein in the keyboard warriors of social media? Or would it destroy the very essence of the internet? Join us on February 7, hear the arguments and decide for yourself.