Social networks should require users to verify ID, tech experts suggest

Survey comes as leaders in English football prepare for social media blackout over the weekend in a show of solidarity against racism.

The majority of UK tech experts believe social networks should require users to verify their identities in a bid to prevent anonymous abuse, a poll of the IT industry suggests.

Six in 10 (64%) IT professionals want platforms like Twitter and Facebook to ask people for real ID, as a boycott by English football’s largest governing bodies and organisations is set to take place on Friday.

The Football Association, Premier League and English Football League (EFL) will be among the big names to go silent on social media from 3pm on Friday April 30 until 11.59pm on Monday May 3, in a show of solidarity against racism.

Forcing users to verify their identity to social networks has been one of the suggestions put forward that could help crack down on anonymous racism and homophobic abuse.

While most tech experts believe this is the right way forward, a quarter (26%) said users should remain unverified, and 10% were undecided.

The survey of 1,804 people – carried out by BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT – found that half (56%) think linking social media accounts to true identities is technically achievable.

A quarter (26%) said they do not think it is possible, while 17% remained neutral.

BCS members added that verified identity details should not have to be part of users’ public profiles, to protect the anonymity needed for legitimate protest, minority groups or whistleblowing.

“It’s clear the IT profession believes we can prevent social media being an anonymous playground for racism, homophobia and hate speech,” said Dr Bill Mitchell, director of policy at BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT.

“Tech experts want users to be accountable for what they say, and they see few technical barriers to verifying the real ID behind account handles.

“At the same time, public anonymity is important to large groups of people, especially those in difficult or dangerous situations or who are vulnerable to targeted abuse.

“No-one should have to use their real name online and any verification details behind the account must be rigorously protected.

“We need those affected by such a change to be part of the debate to make sure there are ethical and secure solutions for verifiable ID available for all types of social media.”

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