Elon Musk on Twitter anonymity vs authentication: ‘A balance must be struck’



Since his deal to take over Twitter became public, Elon Musk has posted a number of tweets and replies indicating how he plans to make changes to the platform’s core product. And one aspect that Musk has talked about is the need to ‘authenticate’ all humans. In fact, even before the deal was made official, Musk had tweeted saying he would try to defeat the spam bots and also authenticate all humans. Now in a new tweet, the Tesla boss has indicated that there will be some balance when it comes to authenticating users vs preserving anonymity.

Musk was responding to Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee’s tweet saying that he hoped the platform would insist that users now rely on their real names. Huckabee wrote, “I hope @elonmusk will insist that all Twitter posters use their real names & not be keyboard cowards hiding behind silly little sophomoric screen names. Be man enough or woman enough (if you even know what that is) to stand by what you say! If you can’t own it don’t say it.”

The Tesla co-founder replied saying “Authentication is important, but so is anonymity for many. A balance must be struck.” It is not clear how he intends to strike this balance.

Authentication or the need to ‘verify’ users has long been offered as a solution to clean up some of the harassment, spam, etc, on social media platforms, especially public ones such as Twitter. The idea is that users should only be allowed to use their real names on Twitter and that the platform must have a way of ‘authenticating’ or ‘verifying’ everyone. But there are plenty of good arguments against this.

For instance, many users run parody accounts on the platform and do not wish to reveal their names because giving away their identities could expose them to attacks on and off the platforms. Some use anonymous accounts to take on oppressive regimes, or big corporate firms, etc. For some Twitter users, privacy is important, given it ensures protection against the state’s wrath in many cases. It should also be noted that not every so-called anonymous account takes part in harassment. Many choose to remain anonymous for reasons of safety, etc.

Incidentally, once Musk’s deal to take over Twitter became public, he tweeted that all direct messages on the platform should be end-to-end encrypted just like on the messaging app Signal. But his takeover all raises concerns among privacy experts who expressed fears that Musk could hand over user data in countries such as China where Tesla is in business.

While Musk’s takeover is yet to be formally completed, Twitter employees are an angry lot. According to Reuters, CEO Parag Agrawal  had to deal with employee anger  during a company-wide meeting on Friday last week, with a mass exodus being prompted post the takeover. The report adds that Musk had proposed getting rid of the board, slashing executive salaries and there’s no clarity on job cuts either.

Meanwhile, Indian social media platform Koo, which is inspired by Twitter, had announced a measure to let users ‘authenticate’ themselves on the platform using Aadhaar data. The feature is entirely voluntary.

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