One of the fallouts from the election of President Donald Trump is the decision by some pundits the government should, nay, has to get its fat, piggy, regulatory fingers into Facebook and Twitter. I’ve been chronicling this for a while, beginning with a July report from The Intercept claiming Steve Bannon was in favor of the regs because of how important social media has become to the lives of pretty much everyone. The calls only got stronger after reports came out Facebook and Twitter started cracking down on Russia-linked accounts which had some kind of involvement in the 2016 race for the White House (on both sides).
The latest call for government regulation of Facebook and Twitter comes from Bloomberg View columnist Leonid Bershidsky under the notion their allowance of pseudonyms is somehow anathema because “hate speech.”
This is a lie. There are plenty of unverified accounts which enjoy thousands of followers, but are anonymous or under a pseudonym in one shape or form, including Hot Air’s own Allahpundit. These are people who have built their persona, public or not, on a pseudonym, and Twitter’s decision to allow it is awesome. I was under a pseudonym when I first started tweeting, and I have family members who enjoy anonymity on Twitter because of their jobs. There are also public figures who peruse social media via alias, and there’s nothing stopping them from enjoying that privacy. Former FBI Director James Comey had an anonymous account before he was outed. Texas Rangers GM Jon Daniels admitted a few years ago to having an anonymous Twitter account, which has yet to be discovered. There are probably other public figures, who want to look at Twitter without having their mentions filled with ridiculousness.
What about those who decide to use “hate speech,” on social media? Well…it depends on the definition of “hate speech.” For some, hate speech involves racial epitaphs or derogatory comments about someone’s sexual orientation. For others, it could involve using some of George Carlin’s “Seven Dirty Words,” in most creative ways. It all depends on the beliefs of the person sending and/or receiving said tweets. Twitter and law enforcement have stepped in when the speech involves calls for violence, but those are much different than just telling someone to go enjoy some personal time with a fruit or vegetable.
There’s also the fact some people SHOULD BE anonymous, especially if they’re looking to reveal wrongs by a government or corporation or news outlet. But don’t worry, whistle-blowers, Bershidsky has your back. Not.
In reality, both Facebook and Twitter would be able to identify users if they wanted to. It would be enough for them to require a valid credit or debit card, the way one does in application stores or on Amazon, and require regular updates to the card information. That way, all accounts linked to one card would be tied to their actual owner, and underage users’ accounts would be tied to their parents’ identities…
Such identification, of course, would hurt whistleblowers and opposition activists in oppressive regimes. But, for their own safety, those of them who want to hide their identities should stay off Facebook and Twitter, anyway: There’s a greater chance that a hostile government or corporation will track them down there than on more secure, encrypted messaging platforms or on the Dark Web. As for the world’s unbanked, one could argue they are of little value to the advertisers who fund the social networks and thus non-essential to their business models.
Yeah, screw that. Not every whistleblower or dissident is going to know how to use the Dark Web to leak information or an encrypted device, despite the prevalence of it in thrillers on TV or in books. Sometimes social media can help whistleblowers get in contact with journalists, even if an email from, say, protonmail might be easier. There’s no reason for the government to get involved in forcing companies to reveal who their users are, unless they’re making specific threats against a group or individual.
Let people enjoy their online anonymity. It’s not like everyone needs to know everything about those who post online. Brian K. Vaughn wrote a book about what could happen if everything got exposed. Twitter and Facebook can always do a better job, but government intervention isn’t needed, and should be resisted, even if for the so-called “public good,” because that tends to only help the groups it’s supposed to hinder.