Verified IDs for social media? I don’t think so….

‘Verified ID’ is almost (but not quite) as bad an idea as ‘real names’: this is why. It does have some advantages. It’s not as quick a stalker’s tool as real names. It doesn’t chill quite as much as real names, but it is still has some very bad features.

Firstly, and most importantly, it is very unlikely to solve any problems. It still assumes that trolls act rationally and are ashamed of their trolling or expect to be punished for their trolling if caught. If real names doesn’t do that, why would verified ID? That is, it doesn’t provide any real deterrent to trolling, or to racial abuse. So what problem are you trying to solve with it? If you want to make subsequent investigation and prosecutions easier, you’re still missing the point: we don’t have the capacity.

You need to specify very carefully what you’re trying to solve first. Deterrence won’t work. Supporting prosecutions won’t work. So what is it? Set that down first, before you suggest them as a solution. Remember that many trolls think their comments are justified. Trolls tend not to think of themselves as trolls or their activities as trolling – they think their abuse of Diane Abbott is really about her mathematical skills and so forth – so measure to get ‘trolls’ don’t apply to them.

Next, the downsides. Who will hold all this vital ID data? The social media companies? They’re the last people who should get vital information to add to their databases. Giving them more power is disastrous to all of us. Some ‘trusted’ third party? Who? How? Why? Remember who the government wanted to get to be ‘trusted’ over Age Verification? Mind geek, who own Porn Hub. Who would they get here? Dido Harding? Trust is critical here, and trust is missing.

Next, the chilling effect. The people most in need of protection, the ones most at risk from Real Names, will still be chilled. Will someone with mental health issues want to give information that might be handed over to a service that might get them sectioned.And people who don’t trust the government or the police? Remember that the Investigatory Powers Act will mean they can get access to all that data. This will chill them. Maybe that’s the intention.

Then we have the data itself. Whoever holds it, it’s vulnerable to misuse and to hacking. It’s a honeypot of data that will be vulnerable. Experience makes that very clear. Even those with the best intentions make mistakes. There are hackers, leakers and more.

So if we want to do this, we need the benefits to outweigh these risks. So far, the benefits are minimal if they exist at all. The risks are not minimal at all. And that still leaves the biggest elephant in the room. What lies behind the REAL problem.

…because the real problem with racial abuse is the racism in our society. The racism in our media. The racism in our politicians. I like to blame Mark Zuckerberg for a huge amount – but here, he’s less responsible than Boris Johnson, Priti Patel, Nigel Farage etc.

So let’s not be distracted. I’m not against this in the absolute way I am about real names – but there are so many obstacles to be overcome before it could be made to work I find it hard to believe that it’s a realistic solution. AND it’s a distraction from the real problem.