MP Demands Ban on Anonymous Twitter Accounts

Last night’s Westminster Hall debate on abuse and intimidation during the election saw MPs tell horror stories from the campaign. The majority aired legitimate concerns about having to deal with angry nutters. Others however sought to exploit the debate to push for draconian changes to the law. The new Labour MP for East Lothian Martin Whitfield asked if “now is the time to ban anonymous social media accounts”. Last week SNP MEP Alyn Smith called for “a ban on the kind of anonymous accounts which seem to enable people to be so unpleasant”.

This idea is obviously preposterous as it would bring an end to the much-lowed anonymous crowd-sourced account EyeSpyMP, or Photoshop wizard General Boles. More importantly, the removal of anonymity exposes politically engaged social media users operating under hostile regimes to serious dangers. The @Raqqa_SL account saw a team of 17 anonymous Syrian activists expose life under ISIS. Do Whitfield and Smith think their identities should have been revealed? Almost as if these idiots haven’t thought their dense idea through. 

MPs discussed a potential review of their legal protections, particularly with regard to online hate. Online conduct laws are already extensive, and the police have said for some years that the majority of their calls are already to do with online incidents. The substantial body of electoral law in the UK arguably affords more protection to candidates from false claims, abuse and intimidation than is enjoyed by ordinary citizens. Serious offenders end up in prison. The necessary protections already exist, especially so for MPs…

Anonymous accounts operated by insiders are key sources for journalists and are used by whistleblowers. Anonymity and free speech have long been intimately linked in the tradition of liberty: from Cato’s Letters in Britain to The Federalist Papers in the US, pseudonymous communication has underpinned free expression. Today, anonymous social media accounts are used by political activists to undermine repressive regimes throughout the world. Freedom from abuse, not abuse of freedom…



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