Balancing online safety with the right to anonymity

Owen Jones (Banning anonymous social media accounts would only stifle free speech and democracy, 25 October) is right that the online safety bill requires serious consideration. There are real abuses that need to be tackled, but that must not mean a wider trawl to censor opinion critical of authority and the government.

We have been here before, when letters were the means used to deliver threats in the early 19th century. EP Thompson reviewed some of the letters in his essay The Crime of Anonymity and discovered a wide range of issues, from personal threats to industrial grievances. In many cases, the authors were brought to trial and sentenced to transportation or death.

However, this is different to another well known form of written communication, the pseudonymous letter. These were usually harmless, often jokes, although sometimes whistleblowing. Their online equivalent must not be criminalised.
Keith Flett
Tottenham, London

Owen Jones says that banning anonymous social media comments would stifle free speech. Nonsense. The Guardian itself agrees – I had to give my name, address and phone number before this letter could be considered. That’s as it should be; I am glad that readers cannot make anonymous comments – and this doesn’t stifle my rights to free speech.

And I don’t make anonymous comments on social media – that just feels a bit like shouting at someone on the bus or in the street.
John Freeman
Kingswinford, West Midlands

There is a distinction to be made between anonymity and validation. Publishing anonymously is quite different from publishing as a different person from the apparent publisher. While noting that there is a long tradition of publishing either anonymously or under a nom de plume, the intrinsic problem is not being able to know exactly who has posted anything on the internet.

Ways of proving one’s identity and/or whether the originating IP address is from a trustworthy or untrustworthy source would do far more to address these problems, without any impact on free speech. As so often in today’s world, it is transparency that is in short supply.
Paul Komierowski
Ballyconnell, County Cavan, Ireland

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