Clean up the Internet
Clean up the internet is an 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, to safeguard freedom of expression, 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 conducted research into the ways anonymity is currently misused, and how this encourages abuse and trolling and fuels the spread of dangerous misinformation. We've identified practical steps which social media companies could take to prevent such abuse of anonymity, whilst safeguarding legitimate uses such as whistle-blowing and 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 abuse and misinformation. 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 current priority is to call for a different approach to managing anonymity and identity concealment. At present a disproportionate amount of harmful or unpleasant online behaviour comes from users who hide their identity, or use a fake identity. Such users are more likely than readily identifiable users to direct abuse at others or spread disinformation. We think its time to rethink the design of large virtual spaces, such as the major social media platforms, to address the harm which misuse of anonymity is currently causing.
What limitations could be placed on the ability of anonymous users to derail debates or harangue other participants? What new options could be offered to users who are using their real names, if they want to reduce their exposure to harmful or unpleasant content from anonymous users? How could sites like Twitter, Facebook, or a newspaper comment page, improve their verification systems? 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
Philip Davies MP, Conservative
“It's common sense to most people that anonymity causes problems on social media. Yet, time and again, I see the Social Media Companies skirt round questions on this issue. Clean up the Internet's latest report offers clear evidence of the role played by anonymity in the spread of incredibly dangerous falsehoods about Coronavirus. It's time for the platforms to stop dodging the issue and start offering solutions.”
John Nicolson MP, SNP
“Clean Up The Internet's new research confirms what we've long suspected - anonymity on social media fuels harmful behaviour. If platforms are serious about reducing the amount of vile abuse and dangerous misinformation on their platforms, they need to stop pretending anonymity isn't a problem. Their current approach to anonymity makes life too easy for trolls, bullies, and spreaders of dangerous falsehoods, and the rest of us are paying the price.”
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."
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."
Hannah Bardell MP, SNP
"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, and puts a lot of people off getting involved in politics. 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."
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. 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."
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"