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Online Anonymity and protection for those who genuinely need it, whilst ending the damaging free-for-all for trolls is not only possible, it should have been done before

October 19, 2021 Leave a comment

We are regrettably navigating our way through times where emotions and the fear that drives them are having a disproportionate level of influence on what government and society collectively does.

Knee jerk reactions and decision making are the order of the day. Rather than reasoned, well thought out and methodical thinking that brings its rewards. Not through the extinguishing of immediate baseless worries, but by achieving the results that are right but unlikely to be clear at that precise moment in time.

There is no way to describe the murder of an MP in the middle of his local constituency clinic held in a church in any way other than being absolutely horrific. But there is also a significant danger that the emotional and fear driven responses to this dreadful event we are now witnessing may push immediate changes to public policy that could prove to be highly damaging to our society.

Those with a public voice within the discussion and debate taking place haven’t paused to consider just how raw emotions now are – including their own.

Taking a deep breath and counting to ten before thinking through the wider dynamics and consequences of the decisions they are now pushing would be a much better and more productive approach for us all.

Of the issues remerging between tackling Islamic extremism and the security of public representatives, both physically and online, it is the topic of online anonymity which seems to be shining through as the one where the crowd has focused its finger of blame.

As yet, and as may never be proven to be the case, there is no clear or overwhelming evidence yet that online anonymity even played a part in radicalising the individual who allegedly committed this crime, if as suggested, extremism was the motivating cause.

To hear or read the way the issue is being addressed by the public court of opinion, you could easily conclude that this is not the case. That the series of events and the way they unfolded are already unequivocally known by all, and that it is as such fair to conclude that online anonymity must be ended for all.

However, as with most situations, the question of whether having to identify yourself and who you are must be a requirement to have any kind of voice on an online public platform is a long way from being black or white or cut and dried.

The Trolls

There is a real problem with online trolling, abuse, woke activism and ‘piling-in’ from social media accounts that do nothing to identify the source or who is involved.

As things stand, setting up one or multiple anonymous social media accounts is very easy. There are no real systems or procedures in place to stop anyone who knows how the online platform sign-up processes work from using a range of user identities. They can do so simply to attack or criticise others, to publicise fake news or propaganda, or to build up very successful campaigns that could radicalise, promote conspiracies or built upon nothing but a tissue of lies.

Whilst the Police or Security Services can of course trace sources using IP addresses and other methods too, the reliance upon this system of reverse-engineering the process to find people who have broken existing laws or need to be warned puts an unnecessary burden on already stretched resources. That is of course if the alleged offence is considered troubling enough to be pursued.

Social Media account holders effectively have a free-for-all if they so desire.

So, if you are angry, frustrated and have it all underpinned by idealistic views and a sense of entitlement that the way social media account anonymity does nothing to counteract, you really can go to work on social media causing problems for others and saying whatever you want, pretty much without fear of consequence, unless you choose to use language that very few would see as a risk-free choice.

Whistle-blowers and Truth-tellers

Many of the comments ripping their way around the social media channels at the moment focus on a demand to legislate to end online anonymity. What they don’t do is address the argument that supports the need for anonymity for those with legitimate reasons, whilst excluding only those who have a malevolent purpose or simply get a kick out of being a troll.

With cancel culture and the explosion of woke or idealistic thinking based on lack of life experience and experience of others and a lack of tolerance for the views of others too, there exists a significant number of people who have knowledge and understanding that we all need to experience. These are people who can help everyone, but who are too afraid to speak out and put their name to what they say for fear of the consequences. Attacks and abuse that most people would agree are built upon nothing more than unreasoned and unacceptable hate.

The truth is only painful to those who need to hear it or wont accept it.  And in an age like the one we are now in, we have never needed the truth to be shared about everything with everyone in the way that we do right now.

With the protectionist and self-serving cultures that exist across high-level business and the public sector, we also need to protect those who want to bring light to the realities that underpin all the ills that society currently faces, without fear of professional repercussion or unnecessary overt risk.

Beyond those with a legitimate need for the protection of online anonymity, there are those of us who have simply not yet found the confidence to put a name to their voice. And if these individuals want to speak and do so without any intent to cause others any kind or any level of harm, why should they be discouraged from doing so?

Afterall, the very step of removing that online anonymity may be the one factor that halts their journey from one kind of life to another. Just another barrier to social mobility where lack of consideration of others could easily take away yet another individuals choice.

Social Media Platforms as online policeman

In an ideal world, we should be able to expect the owners and operators of the social media channels to already be dealing with these problems by tackling them before they even begin.

But the social media platforms aren’t doing anywhere near enough to tackle the problems that exist within the social media sphere.

Controversy, bad news and negative information are the catnip for posts going viral and as such the source of massive revenue generating clicks, they have little incentive to deal with or implement an effective way to police this behaviour when their master is profit and commercialism, rather than the wellbeing of the public that they tell us they are there to serve.

Online Anonymity for those who need it and a paper trail for all

Online anonymity is a privilege. Not a right.

Simply ending online anonymity will be a massive attack on freedom of expression and freedom of speech. Yet there must be a system that removes the voice and influence of those who wish harm upon others, simply because they disagree with them or want to impose an alternative view or truth.

The social media platforms could create a forward process of verification that would amount to the same thing as an application to gain a username, which could allow users to post anonymously, simply because their verified details are stored and therefore known.

However, you can bet that if the media platforms thought that there was a profitable or beneficial reason for them doing so, they would have already implemented such a system voluntarily by choice.

Such a lack of attention to this need and the existence of verification systems like that on Twitter which are seen by users as a badge to impress followers with rather than one which should give confidence in the legitimacy of their voice, realistically mean that these commercially-driven enterprises cannot be relied upon to develop and administrate a system that basically puts the needs of the public good first.

It necessarily follows that the best way to administer such a system would be to place it within impartial, third-party hands, where personal data is reliability kept safe, but where the level of legitimacy exists that will give confidence to all the parties involved.

The way to do this would be to do something like expand the scope of the services provided by the Information Commissioners Office (ICO), and require all users of public online (social media) platforms to register with them for a small fee, where their details will be logged and in return they can be given a unique identification number that the user can then register with online platforms to gain (or renew) their username, with the platform then continuing to allow them to exercise anonymity if it is the users choice.

Being given what is in effect a license to participate in public forums where privacy or protection cannot be assured as there is an absence of other appropriate regulations or rules would mean that all users immediately have skin in the game, as this method of access is something that could itself be withdrawn.

Yes, the system would be reliant upon having a robust system of governance in place which meant that it could not itself be abused or used to restrict access for anyone just because of who they are.

But at a time when the social media platforms are themselves restricting the publication of political material and the content of posts from people they don’t approve of or like, the fact is that an impartial qualification for users of this kind, might well have hidden benefits that could bring balance back to a heavily skewed system and help us to get things right.

The real game in town is replacing this Government with the right people, not challenging everything they are getting wrong

August 19, 2020 2 comments

One of the biggest challenges that anyone faces who doesn’t understand how the wheels turn in politics and government is that even when things look totally dire in real time, no matter what heads may roll in the meantime, the critical point of resultant change or to the time that the difference can be made often follows much later, possibly weeks, months or even years ahead.

It’s one of the reasons that you might have heard the expression ‘politics is a long game’. Regrettably, those of us at the point of literally just having been hurt or having experienced pain from what Boris and his Government of stupid politicians has done seldom have the patience to be able to stand back and review the options, and understandably so.

If you look beyond the establishment narratives that are being pumped out by politicians and the mainstream media, you will see a whole movement of activists developing, that is responding directly to the injustices that the Johnson Government is visiting upon us. Albeit it is a rather discombobulated one.

The inability of this movement to coalesce around anything meaningful at this moment in time is regrettable. The stakes for us all could probably not be higher.

Yet the obsession that many of the independently minded activists, this anti-establishment movement has with being right and therefore making the people they see as stupid wrong, is simply keeping the focus away from the bigger issues that are at work here. Eyes are literally being targeted at completely the wrong place.

Twitter this morning is full of normally very sensible and intelligent people comparing notes on being blocked, stressing how they were ‘having a genuine conversation’ before they were, whilst branding those who might be following the orders of a completely dysfunctional regime as being ‘wrong’, even though the people they are doing-down are technically or legally only doing what’s right.

That moment of self-congratulation that can only ever become real and ‘perfectly’ right once it has been shared with the adoration of the echo chamber does feel very real for anyone whose main objective is to be right, rather than happy, all of the time.

Trolling – which is what an obsessive need to keep ‘debating’ people online with the explicit purpose of making them wrong actually is – is borne from the reality that the ‘hit’ that comes from being ‘proved right’ is temporary and fleeting just like the abuse or habitual use of any drug.

Meanwhile, the bigger picture, the main story and the opportunity to do something positive and good is passing these self-styled activists right on by – Potentially this time at the cost of us all.

Regrettably, even a significant percentage of politicians, officers, civil servants and executives across government and the public sector do not understand how the whole thing really works. That is a very big part of the reason that the Country is in the mess that it is with the process of things coming to a head only having been sped up since the Coronavirus Pandemic began.

The things that Boris and his Government have done and the damage that they have caused us all cannot and will not be addressed by each and every one of us outside the Westminster bubble staring each other down and having a scrap over whether your position on supporting the Government or being anti whatever it is that you are actually against is right, wrong or the ‘truth’.

Of all the overpopulation of elephants that are congregating in this room, there is a comparative mammoth sat quietly in the background that is so big, it could eat not only the other elephants, but this whole room of chaos in one bite.

The reality hiding in plain sight is that all the problems can and will only be dealt with and resolved by a different government led by very different people to the ones that we have. Leaders who are motivated like none of the stupid politicians that we have elected before.

Focusing on the Lockdown, Social Distancing, wearing Masks, Exam results or whatever has affected you or those important to you in some way directly or emotionally won’t now change a thing.

The political class that we have is so stupid and self-centred that it can and will only respond to anything that it sees to be either an electoral risk or has the potential to get them where they want to be.

Fear breeds fear. It is the fear of losing control that led these very stupid politicians to unleash so many programmes of fear upon us all with the aim of controlling the public – because they believed they could – when they should have been using the considerable public resources at their disposal to control only the spread of Coronavirus. Regrettably, they are fearful of everything and believed that they could not.

As I wrote in my blog yesterday, there is a window of opportunity for a movement for change to come together now and everything right.

The Johnson Government will reach its implosion point probably withing 5 or 6 months at most. When it does, we the British Public need to replace them with people who are genuine leaders who understand the bigger picture in a way that many of us do not and should not have to. Leaders who can and will work tirelessly for us all until everything and every injustice is put right.

The solution will not come from any of the political groups or political parties that are at Westminster now. They and their people are all cut from the same cloth – no matter what colour the cloth has been dyed by their mealy-mouthed and dubious words.

Yet they – or people who are even worse than them – will step in and fill the void that the end of the Johnson Government will create, if we do not collectively start to look to play the game by the rules instead of endlessly running on to the field like puffed-up game birds that just get blocked by those we should be working with because there is no credibility in the way they play.

The first step to this is to stop looking to be right and make others wrong and focus instead on doing what is right so that we can collectively overcome all that is wrong.

This has to begin with a conversation, and until people are ready to listen as well as speak, and then open up to the reality that even those who seem to be completely right might be getting at least some of this wrong, the process of doing what’s right and dealing with everything that’s wrong for everyone cannot even begin.

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