Clean up the Internet
Clean up the internet is a new, independent, UK-based organisation concerned about the degradation in online discourse and its implications for democracy. We campaign for evidence-based action to increase civility and respect online, and to reduce online bullying, trolling, intimidation, and misinformation.
Our first campaign is to tackle abuse of anonymity on social media platforms. Anonymity can be a force for good. But at the moment it is being abused by trolls and bullies, and to spread misinformation.
We've identified practical steps which social media companies could take to prevent abuse of anonymity for trolling and disinformation, whilst protecting freedom of expression. If the companies don't act voluntarily, we think the UK government's new Online Harms regulator should have the power to make them.
Three of our key recommendations
1. Give social media users the option to verify their identity
Every social media user should be given the option of a robust, secure means of verifying that the identity they are using on social media is authentic.
Users who wish to continue unverified should be free to continue to do so.
2. Give users the option to block interaction with unverified users
Some users will be happy to hear from, and interact with, unverifed users. Others will not. This should be a matter of individual user choice.
Every verified social media user should be able to block
communication, comments, and other interaction from unverified users as a category.
3. Make it easy for everyone to see whether or not a user is verified
The verification status of an individual user should be clearly visible to all other users.
Each user should be able to bring their own judgement as to what verification status might say about the credibility and reliability of another user's content.
Why Clean up the Internet?
The UK has a serious problem with how conversations take place online. Bullying, harassment, and intimidation are an everyday occurrence. Debates get derailed by anonymous trolls posting abuse or misleading information. Many people feel uneasy about the way online conversations so often take a nasty turn, whilst others feel unable to take part at all. British democracy is being damaged by this toxic culture.
Clean Up the Internet wants to change this. We want an internet where everyone can explore, discuss, and debate the issues they care about, without being subjected to abuse or confused by fake news. We want websites and social media networks to make life harder for trolls and bullies. Where tech companies are too slow to act, we want the government to force them.
Clean Up the Internet’s first initiative is to explore ways to stop trolls and bullies hiding behind a mask of anonymity to launch their abuse. How could sites like Twitter, or newspaper comment pages, improve their verification systems? What limitations could be placed on the ability of anonymous users to derail debates or harangue other participants? What forms of government regulation will ensure the tech companies take the necessary action, whilst also safeguarding whistle-blowing and freedom of expression?
What others are saying about the problem
Hannah Bardell MP, SNP
"The internet, and social media, should be good for democracy. It should mean more voices to be heard and debates are better informed. But sadly at the moment there's far too much abuse and misinformation, and important debates are reduced to shouting matches. This is extremely unpleasant for those that are involved in politics, and puts a lot of people off getting involved at all. We urgently need evidence-based action to address this situation, and I'm pleased to see Clean Up the Internet launching with a mission of proposing practical solutions. I wish them the best of luck."
Kirsten Haire MP (2017-19), Conservative
“The vast majority of people in this country engage positively in the democratic process... The disruptive minority who seek to block out alternative views offer nothing and conceal themselves behind anonymous screen names on Twitter and Facebook.”
Amnesty International, "Toxic Twitter" report, 2018
"Twitter is failing to adequately meet its responsibility to respect human rights in the context of violence and abuse against women on the platform as the steps it has taken are not sufficient to tackle the scale and nature of the problem."
Stephen Kinnock MP, Labour
"Clean Up The Internet is a much-needed initiative. The lack of regulation for online communication compared to offline is astonishing – much of the bile that exists on the internet would land individuals in prison if the comments were made in person. Social media and online forums can be very useful tools in connecting individuals around a common purpose and tackling isolation. But just like in any sector of the economy, politicians need to work with industry leaders to set the standards and regulations which protect consumers and offer a safe and level playing field for all involved. I hope Clean Up the Internet can help to achieve this."
Chi Unwurah MP, Labour
"The abuse that politicians and candidates often attract not only prevents the interaction between constituents and MPs, but puts constituents off becoming MPs."
Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport "Adult Online Hate, Harrassment and Abuse Rapid Evidence Assessment", 2019
"Online hate can be worse than that which is face-to-face, as the Internet allows perpetrators to be anonymous. When victims do not know the identity of their abuser, this can lead to increased fear and paranoia"