BCS calls for social media platforms to verify users to curb abuse

The move comes after a number of racist posts targeted England players on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram following Euros 2020 defeat

BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT is calling for social media platforms to implement mandatory user ID verification in order to help curb online abuse by tracking down the perpetrators.

This follows a deluge of racist posts, comments, and messages targeting the English national football team’s players on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

BCS director of Policy Dr Bill Mitchell OBE warned that “some people still see social media as a consequence-free playground for racial abuse – as we saw last night with England players”.

He said that, based on research conducted by BCS, IT experts were of the opinion that social media 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 added.

DCMS secretary of state Oliver Dowden issued a statement agreeing that social media platforms should be held responsible for online abuse, adding that a recently-proposed Online Safety Bill could see the companies fined “up to 10 per cent of global revenue”.

However, according to Open Rights Group (ORG) policy manager Heather Burns, “mandatory user registration and identity verification is not the answer”.

“A number of policy and legal options already exist as recourse in the event of abuse, harassment, or criminality. These include the provisions of the Investigatory Powers Act as well as Norwich Pharmacal Orders. Options for recourse also include direct engagement between law enforcement and platforms which are used to send abusive messages; indeed, this engagement is happening right now regarding the abuse towards the England players,” she told IT Pro, adding that BCS “should be looking at these forms of legal recourse” instead of “looking towards digital solutionism”.

Burns also stated that “very little 'anonymous' abuse is actually anonymous”. 

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“In nearly all cases, the individual can be identified via other details held by a platform, or in combination with details from an ISP. True anonymity is beyond the technical capability of your average drunken keyboard warrior, but is vital to protect the privacy of people such as whistleblowers, journalists, people who may be experiencing abuse, and people in minority groups,” she told IT Pro.

Alongside ORG executive director Jim Killock, Burns also penned a blog post addressing the Online Safety Bill and calling for law enforcement to do more in bringing racist abusers to justice.

“Anything less is a failure of our legal and policing system and a de facto accommodation with racism,” they said.

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