Over the last week or so, the news has been filled with stories about trolling online. The term is quite well described here on Wikipedia, although this Urban Dictionary definition says it a bit more ‘like it is’. Anger around the subject has been growing for quite a long time, but the tragic suicide of a young teenager, Hannah Smith, as a result of online bulling has brought the topic to the fore.
The wide range of reports and stories have all been calling for sites, such as Twitter and Ask.fm, to offer tougher measures for tackling trolls. Of course, I agree something needs to be done to help protect normal people from the abuse these ‘trolls’ take it upon themselves to dish out. However, to be able to protect people properly, you need to tackle the cause. This means you have to know the actual identity of these obnoxious people.
One of the wonderful things about the internet is the freedom it gives us all. It is a way of finding things out and sharing opinions without needing to disclose who you are. For many, this can be a wonderfully liberating thing. Sadly this is being put at risk for the sensible majority as we see an increase in the number of people who take it upon themselves to violate this freedom; As this cowardly and selfish group inflict abuse, insults and attacks on to others, many are calling for an end of anonymity in posts online. Indeed, this BBC article calls out that Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Google’s Eric Schmidt have both suggested that no anonymous online posting should be allowed*.
Removing anonymity from posts is one thing, but the next question is how much do they need to know about you for you to not be deemed anonymous?! To join Twitter, you simply need to provide an email address and give yourself a public username. This ties comments to a profile, yes, but no more to an actual person than before. To trace back to an actual person requires monitoring of emails, IP addresses and other private information. But to give agencies the access to do this for the trolls means they have to record this information for everyone. Given the controversy around the US SOPA and PIPA bills, I can’t see that sort of access being openly desired by people, but if trolling persists, will there be any alternative?
Yet again, a proportionally small group of people are ruining it for rest of us. In the same way every adult wanting to work with children now has to have a CRB check thanks to those who violated the trust placed in them, I fear time will see us all having to make our internet activities much more transparent to authorities so they can tackle trolls. What does the future hold though? In 10 years will we need internet ‘passports’ to allow us to do anything online at all?
*I have not researched to validate this, but you can usually trust the BBC as a source…