As someone with a history of writing spoof letters to newspapers – it all happened a very long time ago, honest, m’lud – it might reek of double-standards for me to criticise Twitter for blithely allowing anonymous accounts, but, hey, that’s just what I am about to do. Twitter can be a viper’s den of poison, as I have discovered over the years, leading to me blocking numerous abusive users and ending up in a virtual echo chamber. I think people should use their own names or, at the very least, be forced to be honest about who they are to Twitter itself.
For instance, we know that certain political forces are at work on social networks. We know that the Russian government has been active, as part of its general attempts to destabilise those it perceives to be its enemies. It was highly active during Britain’s EU referendum because a divided Europe suits its aims and it was active in the US election in favour of Donald Trump. Yet the accounts were never Boris, to pick a name at random, from Moscow. They were accounts put together on an industrial scale to spread disinformation.
Of course, it’s not just Russians who manipulate social networks. There are also countless accounts from Jeremy Corbyn supporting anti-Semites and English nationalists who have the most to gain from a crash-out Brexit. It can be argued – and I would argue it – that such devious and sinister manipulation of cyberspace is undemocratic. It would be much easier to deal with if the twitterati were forced to use their real names.
Speaking personally, I do not take too seriously the accounts of those I consider to be bots and frauds. That doesn’t make me smarter than those who do. It probably means I fret about these things more than perhaps I should. However, the false accounts are potentially damaging to democracy. We have enough liars in politics as it is.