Social media plays a crucial part in our lives. According to data from the beginning of 2021, over 4 billion people in the world actively use social media (with a global population of 7.8 billion people). Social networks allow us to contact our loved ones, exchange information instantly, and bring together groups of people with similar passions and views. Active users create their profiles on the platforms. They can add friends or followers, create groups, and share photos, videos, or music with others. Why do we use social media? First of all, to be able to communicate with friends, keep up to date with world events and fill up the time. Every day we use social media on average for about 2 hours and 25 minutes. However, this time varies depending on the country. Filipinos use social media the longest during the day, about 4 hours and 15 minutes. Colombians, Brazilians, and Kenyans also have high scores. The Japanese spend the least time on social media, just 51 minutes. The most used social media platforms are Facebook, YouTube, Whatsapp, Instagram, and TikTok.
We feel the need to talk about identity verification for all users of social media platforms. Over the years, they have become the “wild west” of the Internet and space where users often navigate without any control and anonymously. The idea of social media user verification has its supporters and opponents. However, it cannot be denied that the amount of fake news, scammers, bots, and fake accounts are seriously problematic and dangerous for users. How could identity verification change social media? What are the challenges facing major social media platforms today?
The biggest problem with social media platforms today is fake news. In the second quarter of 2020 alone, Facebook removed 7 million of such posts. They were mainly about false information about the pandemic. The third quarter of 2020 saw an alarming amount of 1.8 billion user interactions with fake news, mainly about the US presidential election. Their number increased by approx. 250% compared to the 2016 elections. The pressure to prevent the spread of false information is serious. They harm national politics and increase suspicion and a sense of threat among people. They are also associated with huge financial business losses. A big problem is to identify people responsible for the spread of fake news across social media. They may be using fake accounts or stolen identities.
Another problem is the case of false influencers. Scammers create an account on a social platform, buy followers (prices range from $ 12 to $ 51 for a thousand fake followers), and trick unsuspecting users. This phenomenon is also very damaging for advertisers who suffer losses of 1.5 billion dollars annually from it. Suspicious-looking ads and fake products undermine trust and weaken the strong advertising market on social media platforms. Hate speech and cyberbullying, which mainly affect young people, are also big problems of social media. While this appears to be a more general social problem, it cannot be denied that the main place of cyberbullying is social media. 42% of teenagers have experienced bullying on Instagram, and 37% of them on Facebook. The problems that young people experience later affect their social life, school life, and mental state. Facebook’s COO ensures that the dark side of their platform is a small percentage of the overall activity (0.07%). However, the feeling of impunity and the lack of responsibility for their actions make bullies more hateful online.
Currently, the verification process in social media takes place in exceptional cases. The account can be verified by famous people with a certain number of followers, journalists, politicians, companies, or government institutions who want to be sure that their activities will be related to them. On most of the platforms users don’t need to present any documents, just complete a short survey, update their profile picture or enter the number of followers. Facebook, however, has adopted more advanced methods. When verifying a private account, it is necessary to present an identity document. Companies and institutions often have to provide a document confirming their existence – a tax statement or company statute. Registration on the platforms is not very secure or verified. On some of them, you need to state your age (which does not have to be real) or simply register via email.
Identity verification is a process that can solve certain problems and make activity on social platforms safer. First of all, identity verification could link a specific user to their account. With the certainty that the user is verified, it will be easier to assign the actions to the responsible ones. This would also affect the sense of anonymity of users and make it difficult for fraudsters and criminals to act. The awareness of the punishment and legal consequences of such behavior would discourage a large group of fraudsters and reduce attacks and cyberbullying. We could report actual abuses, identify the bullies more effectively and hold them accountable. It would also solve the problem of bots, fake accounts, and buying followers in some way. Verification would also help determine the true age of the user. Then the limitation from which you can register on social platforms would not be just an illusion but respected regulation.
The need for identity verification in social media is also in the interest of many countries. Recently, there has been a discussion about the need to create a special government unit dealing with this issue in Australia or the United Kingdom. India is also working on social media verification development. The Indian idea of verification was to assume the admission of the Aadhaar card to it – a unique Indian identity document. However, it was abandoned due to the maintenance of the original premise of this document – the distribution of government social benefits. In India, the need for verification is mainly related to the spread of fake news and hate speech that has a religious background. Account verification would be associated with a greater sense of comfort and the awareness that we are dealing with a real person on the other side.
Social platforms face various challenges, and one of the most important is convincing people that it is safe to function in their space. The first one is related to data leaks that affect Facebook the most. In 2019, a database with 419 million phone numbers of platform users was found online. Facebook fixed the vulnerability, but this did not stop the criminals who took advantage of a security weakness in early April and stole the data of 533 million users again. Users whose personal data has been leaked should be treated appropriately as their situation constitutes a serious breach of trust. When deciding to introduce identity verification, large social media platforms would have to take the issue of data security even more seriously. The same is for the verification process itself, which would have to be simple and painless for the user. Questioners of this idea emphasize the difficulties that would involve such a large number of people to be verified. At the same time, the inevitable cannot be put off forever. The fact that verification will become the norm in social media is certain. The only question is, when will this happen?
Social media has great potential. They have a positive impact on relationships with others and maintaining contacts, they are entertainment, they can promote art, have a positive impact on social attitudes, promote events, workshops, or fundraising for those in need. Despite these possibilities, they are still far from being a safe internet haven in many ways. Identity verification is a response to the problems that currently affect negatively social media. It allows you to safely identify people, verify their age and help eliminate threats that may result from fraud attempts.