Should social media platforms require govt ID verification?

S7 News

Verifying identity across the board would help to promote free speech as guaranteed under the Indian Constitution and check on hate speech.

The Central Government on February 25, 2021, brought new guidelines for social media, The Intermediary Guidelines & Digital Media Ethics Code Rules, 2021 to safeguard users' rights and to regulate digital content platforms, online streaming, and social media. The new guidelines proposed that all social media accounts need to be verified through mobile phones with a government ID within three months.

Posting this claim on social media, through his verified Twitter handle Delhi High Court lawyer Prashant Patel Umrao wrote, "All SM accounts need to be verified with a government ID through mobile phones within three months. Welcome step. Internet is safer and more responsible now." India Today's Anti Fake News War Room (AFWA) found this claim misleading. The government later clarified that it is not mandatory for citizens to verify their social media accounts, adding that it has only asked social media platforms to ensure an adequate mechanism for users who wish to verify their accounts voluntarily.

Twitter, a social media forum, works primarily on the notion of anonymity and the verification process is either lacking or not complied with. Ending anonymity will harm Twitter since the platform prospers fundamentally due to the anonymity of its users. Verification of handles will destroy the fake accounts, which would stop the Hate Speech. Further, people are less likely to speak bluntly for the fear of reprisal and whiplash (especially from the politically motivated class). This will cut down on the hate and fake news and trust me it will be worth it.

Gone are the days when human beings' instincts could be trusted. Also, Humans tend to follow the "Herd Mentality." All social media platforms including Twitter have a lot of work to do regarding reading and acting on the signals and how their AI and algorithms read those signals and act upon them. If accounts are verified then it would impact the trolling behaviour and the spread of spurious information on various Social Media Platforms including the so-called WhatsApp University.

Without verification, anybody and everybody can tweet anything including lies or fake news. Liars aren’t afraid of being identified, and anyone who has spent considerable time on Twitter has a troll experience. Verifying identity for all its users would help Twitter to promote free speech and ban hate speech.

By just doing the blue check, Twitter has never really thought much about identity. Like many other social media platforms, Twitter has allowed people to create an account with any identity. For verification, all we need is an email address. So, one social media platform is using another social media entity to verify its users!

The Twitter handle allows a person to don various avatar(s), where our virtual life bears little relation to real identities and/or images. We could live out our fantasies in a digital space. As the platform matures over a period, the users get to know the ins and outs of the system — the good, bad and the ugly. Yet one common thread remains - the cover of anonymity. This is a problem. Twitter and all the social media platforms need to realise that anonymity promotes several ills.

If you cannot stand up physically on the stage to vent out your "true feelings" then why should you be allowed to do the same on a social media platform? Do I have the courage to stand on a street with a microphone in hand, spouting racial epitaphs and slurs? If I don't, then I should not be able to hide behind Twitter and do it which is happening every single second. A social media platform and/or system that asks for verification of all new and current users with Government recognised ID Cards would reduce these activities to a large extent.

Verifying identity across the board would help to promote free speech as guaranteed under the Indian Constitution and check on hate speech. Things will not be fixed immediately, but the process would commence. Moreover, it will create a level playing field of verified accounts following stricter rules about what’s allowed and permitted under the law.

(The writer is a renowned lawyer, founding partner of Universal Legal and angel investor. He is an expert on socio-political and economic issues. An alumnus of NLS Banglore, he also pioneered social projects as the president of Rotary Club of Mumbai, Nariman Point)


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