Three-quarters of those experiencing online abuse say it comes from anonymous accounts

2021-07-28 10:14:00 +0100

72% of people who have experienced online abuse believe they were targeted by anonymous or false accounts, our polling can reveal.

The research, carried out by Opinium with Compassion in Politics, also found that 1 in 3 (38%) have seen “fake news” posts or extremist content shared by anonymous accounts.

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The findings come as parliament gets ready to debate the Online Safety Bill - a long-awaited piece of legislation that campaigners hope will significantly reduce the harm caused by abuse on social media sites.

Groups like Compassion in Politics and Clean Up The Internet, as well as MPs from across parliament, have been urging the government to include specific clauses in the Bill aimed at reducing the number and reach of anonymous social media accounts.

One of the favoured options would see all social media users given the option of creating a “verified” account - similar to the blue-tick system used by Twitter. Users would then be able to see which other users are and aren’t verified, and have the option of filtering out or blocking any user who has opted to be unverified.

This approach, it is argued, would ensure those who want an anonymous account - such as whistleblowers or people who need to protect their identity - would not be prevented from joining social media.

Previous polling by Compassion in Politics found that four in five people would be willing to upload some form of ID to gain a “verified” account and the latest research also demonstrated strong support for government intervention to reduce the number of anonymous accounts: three in four (73%) said they would support such action including 82% of Conservative supporters.

Maria Miller, Conservative MP and former Secretary of State for Culture, Media, and Sport, said:

“From individual harassment to group pile-ons and hostile foreign agents, anonymity is being used to incite hate, spread fear, and promote mistruths. We can’t let it go on. I urge the government to be bold and ambitious and use its Online Safety Bill to make a very clear statement that haters, fakers, and scammers will no longer be able to hide behind the cloaks of anonymity.”

Debbie Abrahams, Labour MP and Co-Chair of the All-Party Group for Compassionate Politics, said:

“The evidence is clear: anonymous accounts are a major source of online abuse and misinformation and the public want something done about it. These findings should give the government the confidence they need to ensure that the Online Safety Bill is robust, clear, and effective in dealing with the problem of anonymous social media accounts. For too long these users have been able to spread hate, mistruths, and fear with impunity - that time must now come to an end.”

David Babbs, spokesperson for Clean Up The Internet, said:

“Acting on harm from anonymous accounts would give a much-needed boost to the credibility of the government’s Online Safety proposals. We all know that anonymity is a major cause of trolling, abuse, and disinformation. Tackling anonymous trolls and fake accounts would make social media a safer place for genuine people to have real conversations."

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