Wrong questions asked of social networks
As deplorable as bullying is, one might be forgiven for feeling slightly uneasy at the Oireachtas committee on social media this week, when Facebook and Twitter representatives were hauled before elected representatives to discuss online bullying.
There were vague suggestions of requiring passport numbers and IP addresses to use social networking sites and of paying to comment on discussion boards. These are all the very opposite of what the internet has come to be about – an open platform. And it certainly takes the “social” out of social networks.
What the Oireachtas committee appeared to miss was that it’s not in Facebook or Twitter’s interests to implement tougher controls such as those that were mooted in the committee session.
Would a reported half a billion tweets be sent every day if people knew that every word they typed could somehow be traced back to them? Would Facebook have reached a billion active users if everyone had to hand over their passport number to register?
It’s safe to say that far fewer people would be using social networking services – and many would simply move to a service that was easier to register with, and the problem would move elsewhere.
Both Facebook and Twitter have very different policies on how they require users to register. Facebook requires you to use your real name – it has been before the German courts in recent weeks defending that policy – while Twitter trades on its ability to allow users to be anonymous.
It’s an often observed phenomenon that, when protected by anonymity, some people simply lose the plot. Whether on Twitter, chatrooms, discussion boards or plain old anonymous letters, anonymity is a cloak that can make you brutally honest, or just brutal.
However, for others, it’s a way to air views that they otherwise could not. Twitter representatives said that it regards anonymity as of “fundamental value”.
But even if the Government could force Facebook and Twitter into implementing stricter controls, there is the question of how something like that would be policed.
It’s not only a privacy nightmare, it’s unrealistic. Cyberbullying needs to be addressed, but it’s likely that the Government will have to go a different way about it.