Milo Yiannopoulos says there’s something unique about Twitter that means the social network should embrace verifiable identities and make users accountable for what they say.
As those who have followed me for a long time on Twitter will know, I have something approaching a toxic relationship with that social network. Sometimes, I just can’t help but tweet idiotic and occasionally career-endangering things. I’m not often libellous – that I know of – but I have a habit of getting carried away and giving my enemies the ammunition they need to make trouble for me.
More than once, it has ended lucrative gigs with large media companies, who tend to be unforgiving about such things.
I can be outspoken, too, in ways my friends wish I would tone down and which don’t always serve me particularly well. My justification is that I say what I believe, which is often, I know, what others are thinking but can’t, for a variety of reasons, publicly articulate.
And yes, I enjoy, more than is healthy, winding up loony Lefties, social media gurus, follower gamers, fraudsters, smug tossers and the various other wackos and weirdos who populate the Twittersphere.
One thing I’ve never been, though, is a pseudonymous hate-tweeter – even when it would have served my interests to mask my identity. That’s the province of the coward.
I’ll be the first to admit that pseudonymity and even total anonymity have their place online: there are fragile communities out there that could not exist without their protective cloaks and which are currently being suffocated by the sinister creep of Facebook’s monitoring strategies. But the comment box and social media are arenas in which, I believe, people should be held accountable for what they publish.
Just before Christmas, I sat in the living room of a close friend as she wept over the phone to her mother. It was 4am, and my friend had got herself hysterically worked up over a foul stream of abuse from a pseudonymous account.
The tweeter had made remarks about my friend’s looks, her weight, her professional accomplishments. He had delivered racially charged insults to a second person and written clearly actionable comments to a third. It was grotesque stuff, and, finally, it had turned my friend into a quivering mess.
The person behind the pseudonymous account is now known to me, though before today I hadn’t told my friend that I know who it is. When I hit publish on this post, I’ll call her and I’ll tell her his name, his email address and his phone number. Because it’s time cowardly bullies like him are held to account for their vile invective. Not just this man, but all of them.
Such a sea change will not, of course, come from the individuals themselves. My first thought was that Twitter should provide a mechanism for the authors of libellous, gratuitously offensive or obscene remarks to be unmasked to their victims, so that they may be properly and publicly shamed – or prosecuted. Such a system is obviously unworkable and represents too great a burden on the company, because it involves subjective judgments.
Now I’ve come to the conclusion that every social media account should be linked to a real-world identity, via credit card authentication or a similarly reliable method, so that complaints can be dealt with properly. (This goes for Facebook, too.) Accounts which are successfully authenticated should then receive a check mark against them, as celebrities’ accounts currently do. Under this system, accounts which have not been verified could follow others but could not tweet.
If we take the Government’s promises to relax English libel law seriously, creating a persistent virtual identity, as exists currently with Facebook, but connecting it to your offline identity becomes even more important.
And Twitter, given the unique nature of its platform, has a responsibility to lead the charge.
Cowards and bullies won’t voluntarily cede this degree of control and give in to oversight. But we can make it absurdly difficult and impracticable for people to commit casual but emotionally devastating abuse by raising the barriers to entry and the minimum requirements for services which, in truth, have no need of anonymity to function. If legislation is needed, it must be campaigned for.
I knew some of the more injudicious things I’ve tweeted were stupid when I posted them. Others only became obviously idiotic afterwards. But everything I’ve written has been written under my own name. When challenged, I have the option of standing by my words, or retracting them and apologising for them.
I think it’s time for those with strong opinions but weak constitutions to grow a pair and express their views in public, or button it and go back to expressing their rage offline, like regular people do.
I’m working on that last bit.