Authentic Digital Identities: Towards Safer & Transparent Social Media

By Rajneesh Jaswal and Unnikrishnan Nagarajan

The need for digital authenticated identities has been fast gaining currency across the world. The ever-increasing instances of harassment and trolling online along with proliferation of fake news and toxic content by pseudonymous accounts has necessitated the demand for making social media more transparent by authenticating digital identities. 

Enabling self-verification on social media will help foster a culture of trust and responsibility and make social media much safer and more transparent. The conversation around authenticated digital identities also needs to move from a narrow viewpoint of privacy to a more holistic conversation around creating a safe environment for all on social media.

Global Move Towards Reducing Anonymity

Through sub-rule 4(7) of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 20211, the Government of India mandated social media platforms to enable voluntary verification with a view to make the internet open, safe, and trusted. Further, the report published by the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Data Protection bill went a step ahead and in Recommendation No 6 proposed to devise a mechanism in which social media platforms, which do not act as intermediaries to be held responsible for the content from unverified accounts on their platforms.

These local developments are in line with worldwide attempts to curb down on toxic content and trolling perpetrated by anonymous accounts. In July 2021, Australia, through its Online Safety Bill2, required social media organisations to reveal the identity of trolls and penalise them if they don’t comply. The United Kingdom is also attempting to implement a version of this through their Online Safety Bill3 and ensure Big Tech has a responsibility to stop anonymous trolls from polluting their platform. The Bill once passed would require the largest and most popular social media sites to give adults the ability to block people who have not verified their identity on a platform.

While enabling voluntary verification will certainly help users be more responsible on what they post, making social media intermediaries responsible for content from unverified handles will impose a Sisyphean burden on social media from both a logistics as well as financial standpoint.

Balancing User Privacy with Voluntary Verification

Legitimate concerns, rightfully so, have been raised that the provision of voluntary verification only serves to further enable social media companies to collect more personal data, particularly sensitive personal identity documents. Another argument put forth against this move is that anonymous accounts which question those in power will be forced to be “unmasked” by the government.   

Both the above are broad generalisations and miss the main issue. The mandate is not on “identification” but on “authentication”. Technical and policy protocols can be easily put in place to ensure that the data collected to issue voluntary verification is not used for any other purposes. Third party security depositories which are legally certified to authenticate identities can be mandated to be the conduits through which authentication is carried out. This would effectively prevent social media entities from becoming even bigger aggregators of data as some fear. 

A section of anonymous accounts who may legitimately be engaged in whistleblowing or useful exchange of information on social media should not be allowed to be used as shields for the vast majority of anonymous accounts who bully, threaten, and spread toxic content on social media. 

Koo’s Two-Pronged Strategy to Digitally Authenticate Identities

Across social media, we have also seen the exalted status those with the blue verification tick enjoy. Most social media intermediaries give the tick without specifying any criteria and in a haphazard way. This creates 2 classes of citizens: those with ‘connect’ and those without. 

Koo has streamlined the process of giving Eminence and published exact guidelines on how eminence is granted4. From politicians, actors, journalists, sportsmen, social media influencers and businessmen, specific achievement criteria have been set for each of them to be granted eminence. Your achievements at a national or local or international level will get you the Yellow Eminence tick and not your connections.

Koo is enabling Voluntary Self Verification using Aadhaar and other government issued IDs. By enabling voluntary verification for all users, Koo will enable creation of digitally authenticated identities and authentic voices for a safer and more trustworthy social media. This is not to say that the Aadhar number or name or ID of a person will be published or stored, all it means is that person is authentic and is not afraid to identify themselves with the views and opinions they present on Koo.

 Through this democratic process, any user can apply for verification giving their Aadhar details and upon authentication receive a green tick. The verification process is handled by third-party vendors who work within the framework of UIDAI. At no point does Koo store any data related to identity and the process is similar to the one used for KYC by anyone else.

By enabling voluntary verification, Indians from small towns and villages across the country can create an authentic digital self and showcase this authenticity to their users.

Read more about Koo’s voluntary verification efforts here

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *