Social media users should not be allowed to post from anonymous accounts, Victims’ Commissioner says

SOCIAL media users should not be allowed to post from anonymous accounts, the Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales has said, amid concern the practice is allowing people to abuse others online with little prospect of being identified and prosecuted.

Wednesday, 24th February 2021, 7:00 am

Dame Vera Baird QC said tech giants such as Twitter and Facebook should not allow people to sign up without providing accurate identifiable information.

The call has been backed by Gosport MP Caroline Dinenage who is hoping to stamp out hate through the Online Safety Bill.It comes as celebrities such as England footballer and poverty campaigner Marcus Rashford and former Little Mix singer Jesy Nelson were among those to have been abused repeatedly on social media in recent months.And last week, Hannah Ingram-Moore, daughter of the late fundraiser Captain Sir Tom Moore, said the family sought to shield the centenarian from online abuse know as ‘trolling’, while the Duchess of Sussex previously described how in 2019 she was ‘the most trolled person in the entire world’.

In Portsmouth, businessman Paul Cheape had to close his vape shop Steamachine in 2018 after it was linked to false claims of paedophilia by an online bully. ‘These days it doesn't take much for people to hound somebody,’ Mr Cheape said at the time.

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Caroline Dinenage, the Conservative MP for Gosport

'I genuinely feared that there was a a concerted effort, an aggressive effort, to cause significant financial damage to the business and myself.’

Following increasing incidents of online hate, Dame Vera said: ‘I think that getting rid of anonymity is fundamental to being able to enforce the law quite obviously.‘People sit at home with a funny name and say the most horrible thing, having quite a lot of pleasure because they can’t be found – that must be the point of it, mustn’t it, to do it without any comeback.‘It’s very unpleasant indeed and it’s imperative they be brought to justice.’

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Dame Vera said there were parallels between perpetuating hateful abuse online and stalking somebody in their home.She said people should not be prevented from using a pseudonym or humorous name, but said the user should have to provide identifying details when setting up an account which would mean they can be traced by the police should the need arise.She said: ‘Of course you need to be able to identify people who behave like this and the Government really has to get engaged with the platforms and make sure they do make it possible to identify.”Last week, Twitter said it would not end the practice of allowing people to post from anonymous accounts, despite a series of high-profile sports stars receiving a slew of racist abuse on social media in recent weeks.Dame Vera was speaking following the completion of a report calling for a new law to transform victims’ rights and reposition victims as participants – rather than bystanders – in the justice system.

Ms Dinenage said: ‘All social media platforms should be working much harder to tackle abuse and hate speech. The Online Safety Bill (which I’m the responsible Minister for) will put a duty of care on online companies to identify and remove illegal content and have stronger protections for content that’s legal but harmful.

‘Meanwhile the Law Commission is looking at online abuse and hate speech to recommend whether the law needs strengthening.’

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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