Anonymous social media cannot impede the law
They say the era of the selfie is coming to an end. Whether that’s true or not, it’s hard to deny that online networking is turning from self-promotion to faceless engagement, but what does this mean for crime and redemption?
With news hitting this month that Facebook is preparing to launch Rooms, a stand-alone social media app that allows users to post, make comments and share pictures anonymously, more than a few eyebrows have been raised. Standing behind your opinions has always been a cornerstone of Zuckerberg’s modus, meaning this decision stands in contradiction. Yet, with more and more platforms offering a similar service, it seems everyone must move with the times.
Room (not the Facebook version, but the indie site), Whisper, Secret, the Insider, Awkward and Cloaq are all names that have made headlines as anonymous social media outlets. A key catalyst behind this growth being fears over how much information has been thrust into the public realm by the major networks, and how many personal details they share with investors and partners. An understandable reaction, despite the validity of such concerns, though, I’m not the only person who views these models with some degree of skepticism.
The most obvious problem is cyber-bullying. It’s far easier for trolls to target people when they don’t have to put their name to the insults. Earlier this month, Justice secretary Chris Grayling pledged to change the maximum prison sentence for online abuse from six months to two years, with the statement coming just weeks after TV presenter Richard Madeley’s daughter, Chloe, had received sexual threats online for defending comments made by another her mother and former This Morning host, Judy Finnigan, regarding convicted rapist and footballer, Ched Evans.
Similarly, defamation is another important point to consider. A landmark instance being Lord McAlpine, who felt the furore of some 10,000 Twitter users accusing him of being a paedophile. Filing law suits against each, in the end he dropped the cases for those with fewer than 500 followers providing they gave a donation to Children In Need. Nevertheless, had the identities of those guilty been ‘masked’, chances are more individuals would have been involved, and the route to redemption would have been much more complex.
Ultimately, though, it’s not all such worrying news. Already steps are being taken to remove harmful and abusive posts on anonymous networks. For example, Secret and Whisper both outsource to surveillance companies who monitor the nature of posts, with algorithms also used to avoid human error. Meanwhile, the cyber footprint left by every computer’s IP address means in legal scenarios it will always be possible to track down who said what, when and where from- at least to the point of which computer was used to issue the offending comments.
In contrast, from an advertising, brand and public relations perspective, the water is a little muddier, because without key information about user preferences and behaviour- the likes of which, on the whole, are not studied or stored by anonymous networks- many of the benefits of salesmanship in the digital age are null and void. Quite what impact this will have on the industries in question remains to be seen, but with declining user figures for young people on mainstream platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Google+, and the rise of anonymous networks, clearly facelessness is an idea professionals can’t afford to ignore.