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Pro & Contra: Real name policy on the Internet
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Pro & Contra: Real name policy on the Internet

9/27/2018
Political and communications consultant Daniel Mack calls for a real name policy in social media, to counteract hate on the web. Inclusion activist Julia Probst counters: Anonymity on the Internet is a precious commodity and serves as protection for minority groups. A glance at a current debate on the Internet.

Pro real name policy – Daniel Mack, political and communication consultant:

Daniel Mack sparked the debate revolving around the topic of real name policy.

The former member of the Hessian state parliament for Alliance90/The Green Party complained about “hate, harassment and defamation” on the Internet in the taz and therefore, calls for a clear identification of users in social media.

Daniel Mack “A political debate only works with a face. Whether in a beer tent or on the Internet”

Daniel Mack, in the guest commentary in the taz

Mack affirms that anonymity on the Internet can no longer protect organizations, which specifically promote hate and demands that in the future, real names must be provided to platform operators such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

These demands have triggered a debate on the Internet. Julia Probst speaks out in the following guest commentary.

Contra real name policy – Julia Probst, inclusion activist:

Daniel Mack calls for a real name policy because he believes that being open and above board would reduce hate on the Internet. Initially, a real name policy sounds good and noble because the real name policy paints a picture of everyone suddenly behaving in a civilized manner. However, this is not the case, which we know from studies on this topic.

Julia Probst, inclusion activist “Long live anonymity on the Internet!”

Julia Probst, inclusion activist

Let’s imagine that the “White Rose” flyers had been marked with real names. Something that was simply not possible during those times because it was dangerous. We are familiar with the RESULT: Many members of the “White Rose”, whose names became public, died by being sent to the guillotine in the Nazi regime.

Hans Scholl’s last words were: “Long live freedom!”. In this context, I would like to say the following: “Long live anonymity on the Internet!”.

As a woman, I am directly affected by hate on the web. Additionally, this hate is usually also aimed at my disability, deafness. Normally nothing happens if the attacks are reported to the responsible authorities. Nevertheless, I am against a real name policy;

It is an extremely privileged point of view, to call for a real name policy because the possibility of connecting with other people in a similar situation in a low-threshold and location-independent manner is one of the most significant achievements of the digital age. However, this is absolutely unimaginable without anonymity or pseudonymity.

The Internet is so often a safe place for people, who are discriminated against and stigmatized offline. Here, people can speak out and connect with people in the same situation. Just recently, I was chatting with someone with autism, who got the diagnosis but clearly said that he doesn’t want it to be made public, given that autistic people unfairly have a bad reputation in society because the media portrays them as callous and potential spree killers.

The Internet lives off the diversity of voices, which are worth being listened to - offline they can be easily overheard or ousted. A real name policy would lead to these voices being deprived of any kind of protection. Many prefer silence to the palpable negative consequences caused by enforced public knowledge.

Those, who have become victims of hate on the Internet, have to listen to the police or other authorities often enough, telling them it’s best not to go online at all or only anonymously. There is no lack of laws, which are helpless against hate on the Internet, but a lack of consistent use and implementation. It has to stop that the responsible authorities just shrug and dismiss this as a private problem of those affected.

Initiatives are needed to fight hate on the Internet. Legal and police options must be applied and utilized. However, a real name policy does not hurt those who hate but their potential victims.

Hate posts violate the rules of coexistence on the Internet. Anyone, who has ever reported a post on Facebook, Twitter, etc., is very often confronted with the very unsatisfying response: There was no violation of the rules. And that is the reason why there are hate posts on the Internet- even under real names. People are not prevented from doing it because unfortunately, they know very well that there will be no action taken against them.

Police, the Public Prosecutor’s Office, courts but also the platform operators themselves must arrive in the here and now. The Internet is not a mysterious fantasy world disconnected from the rest of the world. What happens online has an impact on life offline and vice versa.

Imagine we had a real name policy and this data would suddenly end up in the wrong hands. What situation would we have then? No longer a safe place for these groups. ‘Gamergate’ offered a glance of how that would be. Women, who had demanded more diversity in the gaming industry, had to temporarily leave their homes, change their numbers or even move. All of their personal data was ‘doxed’, that means handily made available to anyone, who was threatening them or wanted to silence them.

The standard for whether we, as a society, want to endure anonymity on the Internet, should be the voices, whose disappearance we would not even notice.