This week, representatives from Google, Facebook, and Twitter are appearing before House and Senate subcommittees to answer for their role in Russian manipulation during the 2016 election, and so far, the questioning has been brutal. Facebook has taken the bulk of the heat, being publicly called out by members of Congress for missing a wave of Russian activity until months after the election.
But one of the most interesting parts of yesterday’s proceedings actually came after the big companies had left the room, and a national security researcher named Clint Watts took the floor. Watts is one of the most respected figures in the nascent field of social media manipulation – and when it came time to diagnose root of Russia’s platform meddling, he put much of the blame on the decision to allow anonymous accounts. As long as Russian operatives can get on Twitter and Facebook without identifying themselves, Watts diagnosed, foreign actors will be able to quietly influence our politics.
I decided to keep this particular part of the hearings currently underway out of the previous item I posted because I feel it’s too important not to be discussed on its own merit. The concept of anonymity online is a complex issue, and instinctively, I want to say it’s one of the greatest things about the internet. What part of it are we willing to give up – assuming we still have it or parts of it to begin with – to prevent dictators like Putin from meddling with our elections?
Banning online anonymity only benefits people in power. You bet it’ll be pushed hard.