Politicians in the United Kingdom are forwarding the proposal to ban anonymity on the Internet following “abuse and intimidation” towards Members of Parliament — specifically of Labour MP Dianne Abbott — online.
On Wednesday, the British parliament debated the issue of online harassment during the general election campaign, when many of them had their views subjected to questioning and criticism by members of the public. Some of them, like Labour Party shadow Home Secretary Abbott, received more directed messages than others.
Abbott’s past comments on race were at the forefront of the criticism against her, but others wrote racially-charged remarks and slung the N-word at her. Addressing the Parliament, Abbott shared some of the insults she received on the Internet.
“I think the rise in the use of online media has turbocharged abuse,” she said. “As well as the rise of online media, it is helped by anonymity. People would not come up to me and attack me for being a [n-word] in public, but they do it online.”
Conservative MP David Jones backed up her arguments by calling for anonymity to be curbed on platforms like Twitter. Per Heat Street, Jones described the platform as a form of “antisocial media” that had “a lot to answer for” by allowing users to be anonymous.
“The anonymity in which a lot of participants on Twitter clothe themselves encourages the sort of behavior that we have heard about today,” he said. “Logging on to Twitter nowadays is much like wading through sewage; it is a deeply unpleasant experience.”
Other MPs argued that it might be “time to ban anonymous social media accounts” to deal with the harassment they receive, in support of previous calls to force users to reveal their real names and identities on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, YouTube, and elsewhere.
SNP’s Alyn Smith called for the creation of a new “code of conduct” to prohibit politicians from using anonymous accounts online.
Speaking to The Herald, he said that he would like to see his party adopt a set of rules that bans the use of online anonymity “which seem to enable people to be so unpleasant.”
The suggestions to ban anonymity were met with an outpouring of disagreement on Twitter, as there are many reasons to be anonymous on the Internet. From human rights activism in oppressive states, and anonymous Mexican bloggers who expose drug cartels, to corporate whistleblowers, users who operate under anonymity do so to protect themselves from physical harm and detainment. Removing that privilege would be a death sentence.
Ian Miles Cheong is a journalist and outspoken media critic. You can reach him through social media at @stillgray on Twitter.