Social media has been a hot topic in recent weeks. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have faced criticism for the social ills that are enabled by their platforms.
From racism, trolling to fake news, social media’s role in influencing elections, culture and radicalizing people is being questioned. Many people use these platforms to spread hate speech and misinformation, and do it anonymously – hiding behind fake names and avatars, with little to no consequences.
So this begs the question – Should social media apps require government identification? It’s really not an easy one to answer…
What are the pros and cons of adding government ID to these systems?
Let’s dig into it.
Let’s start with Facebook. Facebook’s founding principle was to connect people across social and geographical borders.
It has since grown into an international company, with its headquarters in Palo Alto, California – a largely liberal city that is home to the world’s largest concentration of venture capitalists. Facebook now claims it wants to be a force for social good around the world, but social media’s dark side has been lurking all along.
It turns out that social networks have unintentionally or intentionally enabled the spread of misinformation, racism and radicalism – because it’s easy to create anonymous profiles on social sites with no consequences for their creators. And Facebook is not alone; it shares this issue with Twitter, Instagram and other platforms too.
Well yes, a social media app will typically remove a post that violates its terms of service, such as graphic violence or hate speech.
But many social networks rely on users to report posts and content for review by moderators, who can remove them if they violate the site’s policies. And these platforms are fighting an uphill battle. The sheer volume of social media posts being created every day is staggering.
Facebook now has over two billion users and its social media content review team are tackling more than 98 million reports of spam, fake accounts, terrorism content or violence from their community each week – that’s a lot!
Another thing is the speed at which these posts are published and seen by potentially millions of people before a review can even happen.
The other major issue is what determines hate speech? Who defines it? Well, that’s where the government steps in.
Hate speech on social can be defined as any social media post that attacks a person or group on the basis of their race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, sexual orientation and other forms of social identity.
The problem is where to draw the line?
Who defines it?
Where does freedom of expression end and hate speech begin? This has been an ongoing problem that is hard to tackle. Governments have been reluctant to regulate social media platforms, which are inherently global in scope and reach. It doesn’t help that if Facebook were a country, it would be wealthier than Switzerland, Sweden and the UAE combined.
There’s a lot of lobbying and financial considerations taking place.
But with recent events, some have started questioning whether social networks should be regulated by the government – specifically when it comes to content regulation.
Here’s where it gets hairy. Hate speech laws are not just social, they’re also legal and so it’s difficult to enforce them in social media without infringing on the freedom of expression clause enshrined in international human rights law. They would also need to be inforced country by country – each with their own set of laws.
In some countries, social media platforms can be blocked by government order or at the request of other authorities but social media’s reach is so global it would be difficult to enforce this worldwide.
Some social networks have taken the initiative and started policing themselves, but some experts argue that social media platforms need more oversight in order to protect users from hate speech.
So here comes a potential solution…don’t allow profiles without a government-issued ID, essentially removing the anonymity and maybe provide some form of self-regulation.
Social media profiles would be connected to social security numbers or government-issued ID. This could make it easier for social networks like Facebook and Instagram to identify malicious accounts, removing them from the platform without being as reliant on user reporting.
The downside is that social media platforms are meant for everyone – not just those with identification. Also, there are social media platforms that are developed for specific social groups who may have a need for privacy, because of religious or political reasons.
Another downside is the cost and technology needed for this type of regulation – social media companies would need to ensure they verify identities seamlessly and this would require access to identification databases that currently only governments have access to.
If you’re getting a bit creeped out by this thought, I feel you. Do you want your government to gain access to everything you do on social media and vice versa, do you want your favourite social media apps to gain even more access to your data?
Truth be told, maybe both have too much data to begin with? Just a question…
What about data breaches? We’ve seen many social media platforms have to deal with data breaches in the past, and this type of system would make social media companies even more attractive targets.
How do we keep social media from becoming a police state? We know that social media can be used for surveillance purposes – how will these platforms stay out of their reach as they’re regulated by governments by using identification?
What social media will exist? We know that social media is fluid and changes daily – what social networks and how they’ll be used in the future are unknown. Will this type of regulation stifle innovation by social media companies?
What about governments becoming tyrannical and using the data to arrest, persecute or even kill certain people or groups?
It’s a slippery slope.
Social media could be regulated by the government more, but there are many things to consider before a social network requires identification and it would likely have unintended consequences.
In conclusion, social networks can and maybe should be regulated by the government but there are many considerations that need to take place before this type of regulation is put in place.
The pros of social networks being regulated by the government and requiring government-issued ID is that social media companies would have better control of their platforms and social media profiles, as well as a decrease in racism, hate speech and other undesired activity.
The cons of social networks being regulated by the government and requiring government-issued ID is that social media companies could become a police state, they would have access to more data than ever before and this type of regulation may stifle innovation.
What do you think – should social networks require social security numbers or a government-issued ID?