Note: This article is an excerpt from the book “Calm Social Media: don’t be a social media puppet!” authored by Vishnu Goyal. To grab a copy of the book on the relaunch, join the waiting list, and get a chance to win a free copy.
Much more can be done at the legal and regulatory level to bring all kinds of online problems next to zero! Yes, next to zero.
You might be thinking what made me believe so!
Well, I think so because I have got an idea. An idea for making the internet and social media clean. And I am calling it “Legal-Digital-Identity” or “LDI.”
Pondering what the heck is Legal Digital Identity?
No worries. Give me 5 minutes of your undivided attention to explain to you what the heck is Legal Digital Identity.
Let’s get started with a bit of context first.
Today, any person of any age can make an email-ID with an arbitrary date of birth and name! All of us know what it takes to make ourselves 18 or 21 years of age online!
Children are the best users of this self-declared date of birth trick. They take an arbitrary age, make an email-ID, and the whole of the online world gets open for them.
Online platforms that require registration and an age wall to pass verify you by email-ID and birth date. If you are 18 or 21 as per your arbitrary date of birth, you are so! No legal verification.
A similar kind of situation applies to fake accounts as well.
Today, no legal record or verification is required to create an email-ID or social media account. Any person can create as many accounts as she wants. The no-responsibility-attached freedom to create unlimited accounts online is a significant issue, making the issue with fake accounts even worse.
I have come across people with more than one Facebook account, more than one Twitter account, and so on! Those not-so-good netizens use their original accounts in a civilized manner and use other accounts with fake names for uncivilized purposes like trolling, abusing people using all kinds of languages, stalking people. The list of cybercrimes goes on and on.
What if all the online accounts or the prerequisite thereof—that is, email-ID or phone number required to create an online account on any website or app—is linked to some sort of legal ID, record, or verification?
If legal verification is done for every email ID as our regulators do it for mobile numbers or internet connections, it will be next to impossible to create fake accounts, at least for people who are not hackers of some sort.
Once people know that all their online misdeeds can be brought to justice, they will be mindful of what they say online. They will take as much care speaking online as they do offline.
Now, imagine an online world where there is no fake accounts, no social media abuse, no cyberbullying, no threat! The web will be cleaner, safer, and happier for all of us. Won’t that be great?
Found it overwhelming?
I guess you did!
Well, I’m merely saying that if some sort of legal verification is there to verify an email address, social media, and other types of accounts—which are the engines of cyberbullying— social media and online abuse will drop to an exceptionally low level if not get down to zero.
While we can apply the idea of Legal Digital Identity or LDI to other online activities, I will limit the discussion here in the context of its applicability to social media activities.
So, I was saying that if there is some unique identity for each person, issued by regulators, and we mandatorily link the same to all the critical online accounts of a person, there will be no underage, fake or anonymous profiles. With one ID, only one personal account will be allowed on each platform.
We can use such unique ID for legal records as well as digital records of the people. It will act as the legal ID as well as the digital ID of the people. We can call it “Legal Digital Identity” or “LDI.”
Word “Legal” is used before “Digital” as legal verification of a person should be there first. Then we shall link all digital or online accounts of the person to legal ID. Legal first, digital second. Because legal verification should come first, and then we shall allow digital activities. Legal first, digital second.
To understand the concept of LDI in detail, let’s take an example.
In India, we have Aadhar, a 12-digit unique identity number obtained by Indian residents as ID proof. Aadhar is the unique ID of Indian residents. Indian regulators can make it mandatory to link Aadhar to all online accounts of the Indian residents.
What happens next?
We can mandatorily suspend accounts without Aadhar linked to them. With the Aadhar-linked social media and online accounts, there will be no fake profiles left. People will be accountable for their online activities. Minors will not be able to pass the age-walls with a fake date of birth. Kids and all people online will be safer. No fake news and rumors will be there, and the internet will be cleaner than ever!
Based on the above example, regulators can implement the LDI solution in their respective countries. Any accounts without LDI linked to them can be mandatorily deleted by social media networks, which will make the online world much better.
Accounts on platforms widely abused for spreading fake news and other sorts of cybercrime, like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp, can be allowed on a “1-4-1” basis only. Means for one LDI, only one account will be allowed. Separate permission can be taken for business accounts if required. This way, only accounts with LDI linked to them will be active; others will be deleted within a time frame allotted by the regulators.
I know that implementing an idea like LDI is easier said than done. Few people will protest about their legal identities being linked to their digital activities. Platform owners will face technical challenges. And there will be naysayers, of course.
However, considering all the difficulties that we as one community of people worldwide are facing in the online world and the concerns we have for the safety of our kids in the online world, which is as open as unsafe, I believe that we should all come together to push the change for good with an idea like LDI.
I believe that working on the LDI idea, social media atmosphere, and the internet will be much better than it is today. There will be fewer crimes online and offline because most crimes are brought to action with fake and anonymous accounts in the digital-first world. A drop in such bogus accounts will also mean a decline in crimes and social media abuse.
Further, if people with real profiles do something wrong, it will be easy for the regulators to know the people behind such profiles—through LDI attached to those profiles— and quick action can be taken against the wrongdoers. It will be easy to find the culprits and take action against them. The regulators can permanently block profiles of severe offenders with the help of LDI termination or suspension. Most interestingly, those severe offenders will not be able to make a second account due to the “1-4-1” concept, i.e., only one account is allowed for one LDI. Once the LDI program is in effect, people will think twice before posting anything wrong or involving in social media abuse and cybercrime activities.
To sum it up all, with Legal Digital Identity, the “no-strigs-attached-privileges” that we enjoy today will be converted into “legal-strings-attached-privileges,” for good.
Further, “how should we proceed on this matter to implement the LDI solution” deserves a long post. So, I will not do it here to keep my promise that I have kept Calm Social Media book simple, short, and non-technical. I’m not going to include legal stuff here.
I hope that I was able to let you take a glimpse into the idea of LDI. I know that implementing LDI will not be a cakewalk, but it will worth all costs and efforts. Regarding how we shall move forward to bring LDI into action, I believe that our respective regulators and the tech giants worldwide have got all the resources. As a community, we can cooperate and help them in all possible ways we can, for sure.
If you have any specific questions regarding the Legal Digital Identity idea, feel free to leave your queries or share your thoughts on LDI in the comments section. Else, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I‘d love to answer all your questions on LDI in the best possible way I can.
Kudos to you for making it to the end of this article on Legal Digital Identity and learning something new today. Cheers!