Ending Online Anonymity Won’t Make Social Media Less Toxic, Marketing & Advertising News, AND BrandEquity

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called social media a “coward’s palace”, suggesting that platforms may have to reveal the identities of users. (Photo for representation / iStock)

Melbourne: In recent months, the government has offered to crack down on online anonymity. The idea is that attaching online messages to a person’s real name will reduce abuse and increase liability.

Online bullying and disinformation are growing problems, and government action to address them is long overdue.

However, limiting anonymity on its own won’t make social media any less toxic. This will only work in combination with broader reforms to the design of platforms and business models, which lead to polarization, negativity, abuse and disinformation.

Reforms must also protect freedom of expression and take into account power imbalances between citizens and the state. The changes mentioned are accompanied by suggestions for public funding for defamation actions carried out by parliamentarians. Cynics might view these two suggestions together as an effort to silence blame.

In April this year, a parliamentary committee recommended requiring users to provide identification documents before opening social media accounts.

This was not implemented, but in June the Online Safety Act was amended to allow the Online Safety Commissioner to require platforms to disclose the personal information of online bullies. presumed.

In September, the High Court ruled that the media can be held liable for defamatory comments by third parties on their social media posts.

It lists Google, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, and Alphabet’s Telegram messaging app, all fined by Russia this year for failing to remove content it deems illegal …

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called social media a “coward’s palace”, suggesting that platforms may need to reveal the identities of users. Government Mick Tsikas / AAP comments indicate the intention to further regulate online anonymity. Prime Minister Scott Morrison recently described social media as a “coward’s palace”, pressuring platforms to reveal the identities of anonymous trolls. Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce also criticized platforms claiming to be “free speech ships” while allowing users to conceal their identities.

The proposed strategic direction involves risks. First, the regulation of anonymity alone may be ineffective in stopping abuse and misinformation.

Second, reforms need to be scrutinized to ensure that they serve public rather than political interests. While the state’s stifling of dissent may seem less of a concern in a democracy like Australia than under authoritarian regimes, it is important to ensure that the new measures will not unreasonably compromise freedom of government. expression and privacy.

This concern is underscored by politicians who have issued legal threats to citizens for voicing criticism online.

In combination with Australia’s defamation laws, removing online anonymity can further expose users and dampen democratic debate.

Anonymity is just one of the factors contributing to online toxicity.

Most of today’s platforms are designed to maximize user engagement. The platform’s algorithms, in combination with human behavior, mean that negative and angry content trumps positive content. It fosters negativity, polarization and extremism.

Engagement-driven business models also encourage fake news. Falsehoods attract more engagement, so the falsehood is 70% more likely to be retweeted than the real thing.

The UK’s National Health Service describes tics as rapid, repetitive muscle movements that result in sudden, hard-to-control body shaking or involuntary sounds.

Research further shows that the sharing of political disinformation is motivated more by partisanship than ignorance. Online polarization therefore propels disinformation for the benefit of culture wars.

For example, the COVID-19 hashtag “#Danliedpeopledied” was fed by hyper-partisan and fake accounts. An anti-vax “infodemic” is now spreading online, powered by tribal influencers and anti-vax communities.

Online toxicity is exacerbated by social media addiction. Every “like” and comment gives users “a little dopamine boost.” Outrage and negativity equals more engagement, which means more dopamine rewarding the behavior.

As we turn to social media for business and validation, heavy use can make us feel lonely. Isolation can make us more vulnerable to tribes that promote belonging.

Tribalism can encourage group attacks, strengthening the tribal bond. Social media “drumsticks” can be devastating for the target. Such bullying probably wouldn’t happen in person. But online, we have fewer physical and visual cues to encourage empathy.

While some (especially anonymous trolls) find courage on social media, others are frightened. Negative online dating can create a “spiral of silence”, discouraging moderate users from participating. This creates more room for marginal voices emboldened by the echo chamber.

The research, conducted in collaboration with data science firm Signify Group, found that the abuses included sexist, racist, transphobic and homophobic content, as well as unfounded doping charges.

What reforms are needed?

Regulating anonymity will only contribute to intimidation and disinformation if it is part of broader reforms that tackle other factors of toxicity, such as engagement-oriented polarization. This means tackling business models and platform design – a complex task.

Reforms must also be fair.

First, the anonymity regulations must also apply to parliamentarians. Some politicians have used fake accounts to build support, which undermines a healthy debate.

A parliamentary code of conduct could set standards for the behavior of politicians, both online and offline. Regulating the truth in political advertising can reduce dishonesty.

Second, if anonymity is regulated, it is even more crucial to ensure that citizens are not gratuitously pursued or threatened by politicians for expressing opinions online.

Protecting reputation and accuracy is important, but we must maintain a fair debate. Politicians enjoy freedom of expression enhanced by parliamentary privilege and media platforms.

Social media has disrupted the dominance of politicians over political discourse, which helps explain the recent explosion in threats and defamation of politicians.

Any regulations on anonymity must be balanced with protections for freedom of expression, including stronger defamation defenses that take into account power imbalances between citizens and the state.

Given their positions of power, politicians should accept a higher threshold of criticism.

(The conversation)

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