Writing at Conservative Home, Charlie Elphicke the MP for Dover and Deal has called for the banning of anonymity on social media:
We should target the anonymity hate-tweeters use to harass people online. At the moment it’s just too easy to set up a bogus account and viciously stab at people from behind the curtain. Ensuring people can’t set up anonymous accounts would mean hate-tweeters would be forced to be responsible for the hate they spew.
Elphicke goes on somewhat egregiously to suggest that wanting to ban anonymity isn't a free speech issue arguing this point by creating a new definition of free speech that no-one had used until he dreamt it up:
There are some who will claim this undermines the principle of free speech. They are wrong. It’s an insult to all those who fought for our right to speak out. Free speech is not there to protect people who spread hate while hiding their identity. The whole point of free speech is the right to speak freely in your own name. There is also a big difference between the privacy of surfing the internet and claiming “privacy” in aid of anonymity to launch attacks on people. There should be no hiding place for the trolls.
Unlike Mr Elphicke I think this is absolutely a free speech issue and the right to speak anonymously - whether offline or online - is an essential element of that liberty that, in the MP's words people "fought for". And there are very good reasons why we should allow anonymity. Here's one:
A blogger who used the user name, "Miut3" was kidnapped and killed in Reynosa Tamaulipas. She was a "Tuitera" with the over 41k followers on her popular twitter page, that sent out situations of risk, and narco news tweets.
This women - a 'citizen journalist' in a place where the mainstream media and government is coerced by violent criminals - used anonymity to protect herself and to allow the brave resistance to the Mexican borderland's dysfunctional society. If the price of allowing this woman and others like her to challenge and question criminal conspiracy, corruption and murder is that some people use anonymity to post abuse then it's a price I'll take.
Now I can hear Mr Elphicke saying that the UK isn't Mexico and that things are different here. But imagine some other situations - perhaps someone wants to expose wrongdoing within their industry. Do you think that posting under their own name would enhance their career prospects? People simply won't take the risk.
Look at the great blogs exposing some of the management problems in the police - closed down because the blogger got identified. We'd be worse as a society without blogs like Night Jack. And there are tweeters and bloggers who use anonymity to catalogue their struggles with drug addiction or alcoholism safe knowing that anonymity protects their life from intrusion and attack.
Look also at the lengths to which public authorities will pursue bloggers who challenge and criticise them - local councils such as Bexley, South Tyneside, Carmathen and Barnet have all expended council taxpayers money pursuing bloggers (with differing degrees of success). Anonymity facilitates challenge and criticism and this is one of the reasons why public authorities are so keen to see it stopped.
It isn't pleasant to be abused online anymore than it's pleasant to be abused in the street, the pub or at work. But most of the time we walk away, a little upset maybe but not otherwise harmed. The same applies online - switch off the computer, go and make yourself a cup of tea and read a book or watch the telly. The abusers will soon go away if they don't get a response. And don't - unless you're a troll yourself - play the silly game of broadcasting on Twitter, Facebook or your blog that you're being 'trolled'. All that does is make you even more of a target - you've responded so the trolls know they'll get a rise from you.
So I say to Charlie Elphicke, get a thicker skin, stop claiming it's all "for the children" when it's not and read and remember the final tweet from Miut3 - posted by her murderers:
Friends and Family, my real name is Maria del Rosario Fuentes Rubio, I am a doctor, now my life has met it's end.