UK social media users could get power to block unverified accounts

Social media users could be cut off from other accounts on platforms such as Twitter if they do not sign up for ID verification, under government proposals to tackle anonymous trolls.

Popular services including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram will be required to give users the option to opt in or opt out from receiving messages, replies and content from unverified or anonymous accounts. Verified users could also block unverified or anonymous accounts from seeing their content under the opt in/opt out proposals.

This means people or organisations without verified accounts – symbolised by a blue tick on Twitter and Instagram – would be blocked from communicating with, or being seen by, accounts that have opted out from interactions with unverified sources.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport said platforms had a number of options for verifying users, including using government-issued ID such as a passport to open an account or using two-factor authentication, where a platform sends a prompt to a user’s mobile phone.

The new system will be introduced under the online safety bill, which requires tech firms to protect users from harmful content or face the threat of substantial fines imposed by Ofcom, the communications regulator.

The culture secretary, Nadine Dorries, said: “Tech firms have a responsibility to stop anonymous trolls polluting their platforms.” She added: “People will now have more control over who can contact them and be able to stop the tidal wave of hate served up to them by rogue algorithms.”

The government has ruled out banning anonymity online entirely, acknowledging that it would be damaging for domestic abuse victims, activists living in authoritarian countries or young people exploring their sexuality.

The ID move was welcomed by the Football Association, which has called for action against racist and abusive online trolls who often operate anonymously.

Edleen John, the director of corporate affairs and co-partner for equality, diversity and inclusion at the FA, said: On behalf of English football, we welcome the news that the government will be strengthening the online safety bill to protect users from anonymous online abuse. For too long, footballers and other participants across the game have been subjected to abhorrent discriminatory abuse from those who hide behind a cloak of anonymity, which has perpetuated a culture of impunity online. This needs to stop.”

However, Big Brother Watch, a privacy campaign group, said the proposed change represented another move towards an ID scheme for the internet. “The government’s plans to undermine online anonymity will do untold damage to privacy and free speech rights in the UK. This move towards ID for the internet is unnecessary and will have no discernible impact on the tone of conversations online,” said Mark Johnson, BBW’s legal and policy officer.

In a further change to the online safety bill, the government is also proposing to introduce a requirement for popular social media sites to give users an option for blocking “legal but harmful” content such as the promotion of eating disorders and vaccine misinformation. The online safety bill will be introduced to parliament in the coming weeks.

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