LGBTQ+ people and human rights advocates are concerned a petition launched by Katie Price to end online anonymity may put vulnerable people’s lives at risk.
Price launched the petition alongside Conservative MP Andrew Griffith to call for action to be taken against online trolls, who have abused Price’s 18-year-old son Harvey.
In a statement posted on Instagram, Price wrote: “No troll should retain the right to hide behind their abusive malicious posts. I will not stop until every stone is unturned and all those are exposed and held accountable for their actions. This affects everyone in society including our children, Mother, Brother, Sister, family and friends alike, together we are all united in this petition. #TrackATroll.”
As it stands, there are more than 140,000 signatories. Price’s petition asks for it to be made “a legal requirement, when opening a new social media account, to provide a verified form of ID. Where the account belongs to a person under the age of 18, verify the account with the ID of a parent/guardian, to prevent anonymised harmful activity, providing traceability if an offence occurs.”
However, it has prompted communities to speak out about why online anonymity is essential for some people, such as marginalised queer groups, who use platforms like Twitter and Instagram to find solidarity and community.
Since Price launched the campaign on March 10, the hashtag #SaveAnonymity has been widely shared on social media. Many individuals using the hashtag to express their concerns are doing so from anonymous accounts.
One post, which has more than 10,000 retweets, reads: “I’m practically begging you to RT – those under 18 in the UK will have to get their parents to verify their accounts with full ID. This will put so many teens in danger (LGBTQ+ youth, abuse victims, etc.)”
Another reads: “Please tweet the hashtag #SaveAnonymity! A petition is going to UK Parliament that would require everybody on the internet to provide full ID before making an account, and minors would have to use parents’ ID.”
It continued: “If this law gets passed, LGBT kids would be outed, people in dangerous situations lose opportunity to reach out for help anonymously, etc, so please, don’t just tweet the hashtag and nothing else (this would be counted as spam), include other words too.”
One person wrote that they were “ terrified” at the prospect of the proposal getting passed, while another tweeted: “My parents would kick me out for my preferred pronouns. Social media is my escape from homophobic family and school. Please don’t let them take it away from me and many others.”
The Open Rights Group, which promotes human rights online and has 44k followers, is also standing against Price’s campaign. Speaking to HuffPost UK, a spokesperson said: “Attacking anonymity is a short cut to making some LGBTQ people’s lives very difficult, among others.”
In a statement on Twitter, the ORG commented: “We stand with #SaveAnonymity – it is great to see young people stand up for the rights of #LGBTQ people to be anonymous online. This is how rights are defended and won – people standing up for their rights.”
In January, the Open Rights Group responded to the Lords Communications Committee enquiry into freedom of information online, claiming digital regulation is limiting freedom of expression.
Referencing the ongoing debate about online anonymity, the group said: “Psuedonymity is vital for marginalised individuals such as members of the LGBTQ community seeking to explore their identity safely without identifying themselves to everyone they know.”
Other voices expressing concern about Price’s campaign include Rob McDowall, rapporteur for Equality and Human Rights Scotland and chair of Welfare Scotland, who tweeted that he “absolutely could not” support the campaign, which would “put so many in danger especially LGBT+ people who aren’t out.”
McDowall also endorsed another tweet suggesting it should be platforms such as Twitter and Facebook that should be held accountable for any abuse posted.
Cyberbullying has risen under lockdown, according to the Office of National Statistics, whose recent data showed one in five schoolchildren had been at the receiving end of online bullying over the past year.
Price’s campaign to #TrackATroll has garnered backing from charities including Mencap, and charity founder Anna Kennedy OBE, who appointed Harvey one of her charity’s ambassadors.
Clarifying details of the petition on Monday, Katie Price told Victoria Derbyshire: “When we say ID, I could be called Princess Price on something when my name is Katie Price – it’s just a way of contact so you can be contacted. As long as you can be tracked. And if people don’t want to do that then they could be guilty of something.”
In response to the criticism of the campaign, a representative for Katie Price told HuffPost UK: “No one is being outed, or required to provide personal information – a trackable IP address is not asking for private data – only an address to the IP registrar; a registrar of IP address that is held on a data base by a governing body.
“This is yet all to be negotiated. In the instance [that] a complaint is raised, the IP can be tracked to an address and subsequently the source. Katie would not expose anyone other than trolls and those guilty of malicious online content who’s purpose is to directly harm and cause mental upset.”
Responding to Price’s rep, the Open Rights Group spokesperson added: “If [Katie Price’s] plan really is limited to keeping IP records, as her representatives say, then this already exists. The problems here are about enforcement of platform’s rules, of police being unwilling to act.
“We remain worried that calls to remove ‘anonymity’ would be used to justify removing or limiting anonymity and making social media much less safe for LGBT people – and others who wish to remain anonymous or unknown to their work colleagues, social circles of families for instance, from fear of abuse.”