Updated: Feb 10
Paul Stephen Waugh, Head Mentor of Lighthouse International Group, was asked by ITV News to contribute to a discussion on online anonymity as part of our Parents Against Trolls campaign.
Image credit Etienne Boulanger@unsplash
This question is central to The Online Safety Bill currently being discussed by Parliament in the UK. It is also something that is a key part of our Parents Against Trolls campaign as discussed by Lighthouse Head Mentor and campaign founder Paul Stephen Waugh when he was asked by ITV News to share his thoughts on this very question about online anonymity.
There are legitimate arguments for the benefits and consequences of online anonymity that have a critical impact on people’s lives. As discussed in the TV interview there are those whose lives depend on their ability to be anonymous online. However with this freedom of online anonymity comes the devastating consequences of people being trolled online anonymously; especially for young people as one study in a report published by the Department For Digital, Culture, Media and Sport states; "67% of 15-18-year olds had been exposed to hate material on Facebook and YouTube, with 21% becoming victims of such material".
So what is the answer? If the freedom to be anonymous online is both saving people’s lives in its use and destroying people’s lives in its misuse then how ought we respond to this issue and threat to best protect our young people?
As discussed by Paul Stephen Waugh, the answer is to find the genius of the AND!
“I’m not against anonymity, I think we have got to find the genius of the AND. Not anonymity or not, anonymity AND protection, anonymity AND responsibility, regulation, administration. Anonymity is extremely important, but it is extremely important that it is looked after and kept safely and essentially regulated well. So we have got to find the genius of the AND, anonymity and safety, anonymity and freedom. Not anonymity or not. Anonymity and freedom”.
What the genius of the 'and' would mean is for there to be structures in place for people to keep the privilege of having online anonymity. This would always ensure that behind each pseudonym that is used, that everyone is registered with an official body with their real identity. This is explained by Paul Stephen Waugh further using the example of boarding a plane;
“When you get someone boarding a plane from special services, MI5 or whatever, and they get on a plane, special services and they are under a pseudonym. You better believe that they are not the only ones that know their pseudonym. The whole back-up they belong to, the special services organisation or whatever, the military, police or whatever they are, presidential, prime ministerial.”
If those who use a pseudonym in any other area of their lives are required for their real identity to be registered with an official body or organisation, then why would this not be the case online? If people’s intentions for being anonymous online are genuine and positive then why would they see any issues with registering their real identity to ensure that the privilege of anonymity can be maintained and that children can be best protected from those who would abuse this to hurt those most vulnerable?
This is such a crucial area to address. To read more on The Online Safety Bill and what it means to bring law and order into the ‘Wild West’ of the internet, please see this article written by Ella Watson.
For more information about online trolling, to get involved with our campaigns or to receive support around this issue, please contact us through our Parents Against Trolls and Trolling page.
You can watch Paul Stephen Waugh's contribution to the ITV News feature in the video below.
Additionally you can learn about what we’ve explored over the last 18 years from our pioneering research into human potential on our various social media channels.