March 7, 2022

Does anonymity fuel hate and fake news?

What would the Internet be like without hate, trolls and bots? Many believe that one reason for this annoying or even criminal activity is the anonymity of users. But why, then, is anonymity on the Internet such a valuable commodity? We explain how anonymity, hate and false news are connected and answer the big question: "Is there a solution against hate and trolls that does not penalize platforms or users?"

Why can't we get rid of hate, trolls and bots?

Platforms that want to preserve anonymity often require only a username or email address to create an account. But this inevitably allows fake accounts to be created. Anyone and everyone can create an infinite number of e-mail addresses and thus an infinite number of new accounts for free. Measures that such platforms take against trolls or people who spread hate can therefore be circumvented very easily, by creating a new account. Here, anonymity leads to uncontrollable spreading of hate and false news.

If platforms still want to offer qualitative content, each piece of content must be checked before it is published. This prevents fake news and hate comments from gaining the upper hand. But this is a costly undertaking and exciting discussions are nipped in the bud. Many discussion partners often don't want to wait for releases. The moderation team also suffers from the heavy psychological burden of having to read hundreds of hate comments and false reports every day.

False anonymity

Some platforms demand proof of identity from their users, but then keep the identity secret from everyone else on the platform. In other words, they allow users to operate under a username. On the one hand, this allows platforms to prevent trolls, bots and the like, and on the other hand, users can remain anonymous to others.

However, many people shy away from this type of verification and platforms lose important parts of their community. The reason is quite simple: there is no real anonymity involved. The employees of the platforms know the true identities behind the accounts. This gives many people an uneasy feeling. There is also the chance that the proof of identity will one day be demanded by authorities, or even stolen and published by hackers. This approach has little to do with true anonymity.

Why is anonymity so important on the Internet?

Above all, anonymity protects freedom of expression. The Internet is global and accessible to everyone. What is accepted as an opinion in one's own country can endanger one's life elsewhere. Groups at home or abroad could misuse identity information to pursue certain opinions on their own.

"Häufig gibt es gute Gründe, warum jemand anonym bleiben möchte, zum Beispiel um sich vor Diskriminierung oder Angriffen zu schützen. Dies gilt für Leserbriefe in Zeitungen genauso wie für Posts im Internet.Often there are good reasons why someone wants to remain anonymous, for example to protect themselves from discrimination or attacks. This applies to letters to the editor in newspapers just as much as to posts on the Internet,"

Federal Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht (SPD) told dpa.

Is there a solution?

Anonymity on the Internet is a valuable asset. Ways other than cost-intensive moderation of all content or false anonymity must be found to efficiently combat hate and troll factories. Trusted Accounts has developed a technical solution for platforms, the "Login with Trusted", for this purpose: Users benefit from true anonymity, while platforms can put anonymous trolls, haters in their place.