July 15, 2021
As a person of colour, I’ve suffered online abuse, but ending anonymity and mandatory ID verification each raise problems
Abolishing online anonymity won’t tackle the underlying problems of racist abuse | Hussein Kesvani
As a person of colour who has spent much of their life online, I’ve dealt with my fair share of racist abuse. From anonymous accounts on niche forums about anime hurling unprintable slurs, to more easily identifiable people – with their real names and locations published – on Facebook and Twitter sending me death threats. As a result, I imagine that my tolerance for racial abuse on the internet is higher than average. I’ve even gone as far as meeting people who have sent me torrents of online abuse to try to understand what motivated them. Even so, I still know – and feel – how awful it is. The posts, messages and emails stick with me long after they’ve been sent and the users have been blocked, reported and banned. It’s a reminder that being treated as “other” and degraded is part-and-parcel of existing on the internet as a non-white person. Moreover, while there was a time when posting on forums was something relatively few people did, the dominance of participatory timeline media in our personal and professional lives has changed all that. You don’t need to be in the darker, closed-off corners of the internet to experience a deluge of harassment and abuse.
It makes sense, then, that in the wake of England’s Black footballers receiving a storm of racist abuse on their Social Media profiles after the Euro 2020 final, we have seen renewed calls for mandatory ID verification to allow people to have social media accounts. Since Sunday, more than half a million people have signed a petition calling for platforms to ban online anonymity, while organisations such as the UK’s Chartered Institute for Information Technology have called for MPs to support ID verification – while maintaining the possibility for anonymity – on the grounds that social platforms should not be “consequence-free” areas for prejudice to run rampant. Demands for the end of online anonymity were vocalised earlier this year when a number of Black players were targeted and harassed on social media, while the model Katie Price has told MPs that she would like to see anonymity removed as part of the online safety bill. It is a position that she has reached through the experience of seeing her son Harvey being frequently verbally abused online.
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