Will Social Media Require Photo ID in the Future?

 

The debate around what ID should be used for has been raging for decades, but it’s only in the last few years that verifying ID for social media use has been added to the list. The discussion appeared in the House of Commons via a Change.org petition in memory of someone who had committed suicide due to online bullying. A similar protest was also set up by celebrity Katie Price after her disabled son, Harvey was subject to horrific online abuse. The campaigners argued that if all social media companies were required to verify a user’s ID before allowing them access to the platform; it would limit the number of online trolls due to the lack of anonymity.

How Will It Work?

As there have been no official announcements regarding social media and mandatory photo ID being introduced it is hard to say how it will work. Many campaigners have suggested that having a verified ID to open a social media account, similar to when people use gambling sites, will stop online trolling and abuse. Technology has developed over recent years which means that people can upload photo ID and a selfie and have their accounts immediately verified as technology recognises they are legitimate. Although we’ll have to see which social media platforms would adopt this and where it would become law that it needed to be done, it is thought that if it was introduced then social media accounts would be verified in much the same way.

Is Photo ID for Social Media Something That Should Happen?

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While on the surface this seems like a good idea and the reasoning makes sense, some campaigners have argued that this new law could cause a lot of issues and negatively impact peoples’ lives.

On one hand, requiring users to verify a form of ID when signing up for an account does have the potential to cut down the amount of abuse that people receive online. It’s not unusual for someone to hide behind an anonymous account to bully another person online, and for that person, it can be hugely damaging. There are a growing number of cases where young people have taken their own lives because they were the victim of aggressive hate campaigns. If social media platforms had to collect a valid form of ID before allowing users access it would likely put people off from committing these acts, and if they did the police could request access.

It’s not just abuse that ID checks could stop either. Accounts selling illegal substances or weapons are rife across many platforms, and verifying ID could help to tackle this issue. Not to mention that it would make the millions of bot accounts that pop up every day impossible to create.

While there are many reasons why a requirement for social media companies to verify IDs is an excellent idea, there are also many genuine issues that such a law could create.

Why Are Some People Against It?

In 2021 the UK government reported that over 50,000 people were seeking asylum. People fleeing their home countries may not have a form of ID to verify, but social media could be the only way that they are able to stay in touch with relatives across the world. Having travelled across the world for safety, these people could arrive to find themselves more isolated than ever. The bill also disproportionately affects disadvantaged groups. A government study found that 11 million people don’t have a valid form of photo ID in the UK, with most of those people coming from lower-income families or of ethnic minority heritage. By introducing ID checks, the government could inadvertently silence the people who need a voice the most.

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Some protestors also argued that it wouldn’t be just minority groups or people from disadvantaged backgrounds that would be silenced. There are fears that if mandatory ID checks were brought into law, free speech could suffer as a result. The UK government has long been accused of being corrupt and in favour of more powerful and wealthy individuals. If the bill became law it would be easier for powerful people to claim harassment in order to silence critics with genuine concerns, making it more difficult for the general public to hold powerful people to account.

In addition to this, sometimes anonymity can be a good thing. It gives voice to people who feel they can’t speak publicly. Anonymity allows people a platform to speak about stigmatised issues or taboo topics without fear of repercussions. Hacks can and do happen; if a social media platform was hacked and the real identity of a large account was made public it could put them at a serious safety risk.

Will It Happen?

Introducing a requirement to verify ID in order to use social media has many benefits, including limiting the amount of online abuse and helping to stamp out illegal accounts and bots. However, it also has the potential to marginalise already disadvantaged groups and give powerful people even more power. With this in mind, it’s likely that the government will be discussing this issue for a long time to come.  Most people accept that some sort of verification should be put in place for social media and public platforms – currently, you are able to make an email address using a free platform such as Gmail to create an anonymous email address and sign up to any social media platform within a few minutes. This route to creating an anonymous account feels too easy for some people, which is what people who want to see photo ID introduced are worried about. Even if photo ID is not introduced anytime soon there are likely to be some steps in 2022 put in place that discourage people from acting this way on social media. This could even see internet service providers and social media platform owners forced to take some responsibility for the safety of their users and be forced to act more strongly when people do break the rules.

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