And so to the historic Temple Church, to see some of today’s finest legal minds debating a very contemporary issue: anonymity in social media. In particular, the suggestion that users be required to provide proof of their ‘real’ identity to platforms such as Twitter before they can open an anonymous account.
Media law barrister Andrew Caldecott QC suggested requiring such proof – ‘open to release if a court considers it necessary’ – as a possible way forward. At the moment, he pointed out, the Norwich Pharmacal procedure in civil proceedings to identify anonymous social media users is ‘slow and costly’, and often ‘unproductive’ given the range of tools to keep internet users anonymous.
Caroline Addy, from Doughty Street Chambers, said online anonymity can become ‘a sort of contagion because the worse our public discourse becomes, fuelled by internet anonymity, the more people want to remain anonymous – and I would say often quite reasonably so’.
Adam Wagner, also from Doughty Street, said social media giants were quite happy to invite the government to regulate them because ‘then they can blame the government when the experience becomes less enjoyable’.
The harmful consequences of online abuse ‘are such that we cannot continue with the status quo’, Addy said.
But, on the topic of regulating social media platforms, all three barristers agreed: ‘Be careful what you wish for’, was the common line - to the extent that, at one stage, Obiter lost track of who was advocating for which side.
Before rising to the temptation to legislate, perhaps the government should listen to the lawyers.