Anonymity is indispensable

Would an anonymity ban on social media be a good solution to counter all the hatred on these platforms? We were asked this question by a national newspaper in response to such calls. Here is the reaction. of EDRi's member Bits of Freedom.

By Bits of Freedom (guest author) · April 22, 2021

At the schoolyard

Being able to stay anonymous online is vitally important. It enables you to speak out who you are. Perhaps you teach a classroom of young children during the day and at night you like to pop a pill and go wild. You want to share that experience, but without having to explain yourself to an angry parent the next morning at the schoolyard.

Anonymity also helps you to discover who you are. If you are confused about the gender that you are attracted to, you want to share those thoughts with others, without having to out yourself completely. Anonymity is indispensable for your self-development and your freedom of speech.

The process to go to court over content that somebody put online must be simpler, quicker and more accessible.

Online filth

It’s true that some people abuse the opportunity to give vent to their opinions under a random name. The filth that is continually spouted online makes Rejo shudder every time. It’s always hurtful to hear about people who are not active on social media for fear of brutal, completely unfounded and improper threats.

There are many reasons why the internet is not a nice place for everybody. This is in part due to the way the social media platforms themselves were designed. The platforms were built to elicit and give priority to short, simplistic and controversial reactions. It’s also not helpful that smearing somebody online hardly has any consequences.


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Anonymity is indispensable

However, questioning whether or not we should allow anonymity on social media is really the wrong question. You are not anonymous at this very moment; only when you use specialized technology and deliberately control your behaviour. But hardly anybody does that and it’s difficult to keep up long-term anyway. So, unless you practise these things you are rarely, if ever, truly anonymous.

If you think someone has said something disproportionately harmful about you, you can sue them. To do so you will need to pay a visit to the platform and have them hand over the IP-address of the author. With the help of an internet provider this will enable you in most cases to track down the real name and contact details of the coward.

Energy, time and money

The problem is that it will cost you a huge amount of energy, time and money. Not everybody has that. This puts up a barrier to take action and lets the jerks who posted the poisonous content go free.

The process to go to court over content that somebody put online must be simpler, quicker and more accessible. It should be easier than it is now to have a post removed, demand a rectification or claim damages. It should also be possible to take down postings by way of a shortened procedure when they are clearly against the law and have serious impact, like revenge porn or certain threats.

Anonymity is essential to self-development

Protect both victim and anonymity

I do understand that this is much more complicated than simply calling for a ban on anonymity on social media. The process needs much more creativity and perseverance than introducing a new ban. Anonymity is essential to self-development and it would be a terribly shame if we unwittingly discard it through our own laziness or lack of ambition. Everybody stands to gain if we can give internet users the tools to fight back against the hate and filth that’s inflicted on them, while at the same time preserving all the good that comes with anonymity.

The article was first published here.

(Contribution by: Rejo Zenger, Policy Advisor, Bits of Freedom)


(Image credit: Kaiyu Wu/Unsplash)