A debate is raging in Germany over whether social media users should have to properly identify themselves.
Wolfgang Schäuble, President of the German parliament, the Bundestag, sparked it by calling for Klarnamenpflicht, an obligation to use a real name.
“I am in favour of compulsory use of clear names in social networks and support all proposals by the Federal Minister of Justice to enforce rules and transparency in the digital world as well,” Schäuble said in a newspaper interview at the weekend.
CDU (Christian Democratic Union of Germany party) chairwoman Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer also recently called for online users to appear under their real names.
It’s an issue that’s been debated since the creation of social media.
On the one hand, the discussion is dominated by data protection concerns, such as the right to freedom of expression and the protection of the individual.
Proponents of clear names want to limit the anonymity that some users use as a cover for spreading hatred and incitement to hatred.
European governments are trying to get a handle on the issue, but the idea of forcing social media companies to ensure their users are signing up with their real names hasn’t gained much traction.
In the UK, a change to the law on online harm has been under consideration for some time, but the emphasis laid out in the draft legislation is on social media companies to take responsibility for what is posted on their sites. The plans call for an independent regulator to hold internet companies to account.
In Germany, how a law forcing people to use their real names could be enforced is still unclear. Following Schäuble’s comments, many people including net activists and politicians shared their views on the issue.
Here’s an outline of the for and against on Twitter.
Some argued, in professions such as journalism and politics, the use of a clear name and identity is vital.
“I often hear as an argument against the #Klarnamenpflicht obligation, one would be bullied then. Have you ever thought about what politicians and also we journalists get for standing up for our positions with our name?” wrote Miriam Hollstein.
“To show a face is to show a name,” says British-German journalist Alan Posener. An article he penned in the Die Welt newspaper on hate on the net is titled: “We are not burqa, so get rid of internet pseudonyms”.
The journalist Sibel Schick points out that minorities are especially discriminated against on the Internet.
In 2009, the Federal Court of Justice ruled that an obligation to express a particular opinion by name carries the risk of self-censorship, pointed out Benedikt Brechtken.
One user noted: “perhaps Mr. Schäuble and Mrs. Kramp-Karrenbaur do not understand the Internet?”.
“Anyone who demands a #Klarnamenpflicht obligation on the net has not understood the Internet. Even in the analogue world nobody has to walk around with a name tag.
“Anonymity ensures freedom of expression – no matter how uncomfortable it is. There are better ways to deal with hatred on the net.”
And some suggested a compromise: Where identity is registered with the social media company, but it is still possible to appear with a pseudonym.
“You should think about a possibility for ‘nameless’ verification,” said Alex Urban.
Jens Zimmerman, a spokesman for digital politics of the SPD parliamentary group, spoke out against a duty for clear names.
On Twitter, he said that the problem was rather the prosecution of those who spread hate online rather than the anonymity the Internet offers them: “The fight against hatred and hate is failing due to inconsistent prosecution and insufficient personnel”.
Do you think real names should be used online? Tell us in the comments, below, where you can safely use a pseudonym…