I’ve FaceTimed My Online Trolls. An Anonymity Ban Won’t Stop The Abuse

Direct from the sunny hills of California, an email landed in my inbox. Something to the tune of “go back where you came from”, “kill yourself”, and some other unpleasant sentiments.

How do I know it came from California? Oh, because the sender had his work address in his signature, complete with his name and even a contact number.

When people want to send you hate, they don’t care about anonymity. I’ve even tried video calling some of my trolls on Instagram and yes, they pick up. They aren’t afraid to show their names, their faces, or in some cases their work places. Let’s not forget the maths teacher who sent abuse to footballer Marcus Rashford and did so from a Twitter account that included his name and job.

While some of the trolls, jarred by the imminent prospect of being face-to-face with their subject, declined my calls, others brazenly answered. And once they had seen that I was an actual person and not just a name online, I hung up on them without saying a word.

Following the tragic death of MP Sir David Amess, there have been renewed calls to target internet trolls and vigilantes by banning anonymous accounts.

Home secretary Priti Patel said that banning unnamed people on social media could be a step towards preventing radicalisation. This, after Ali Harbi Ali, the 25-year-old who has been charged with Amess’s murder, was said to have been radicalised by material found online during lockdown.

Diane Abbott, who has received more online abuse than any other female MP, has also backed calls to end people hiding behind faceless usernames, while journalist Marianna Spring, whose recent Panorama documentary investigated the sharp rise in online abuse, especially against women, gave evidence to a committee of MPs this week to inform drafting of the new Online Safety Bill.

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