A ban on anonymous Twitter accounts has been urged at Westminster to combat the scourge of cyber abuse and bullying.
Parliament heard the social media platform was “a real problem” and that ending the practice of allowing nameless users would open the way for vile online trolls to be prosecuted.
In response, ministers said banning anonymous accounts was not straightforward, but added that the Government had “an open mind” on issues such as a digital ID scheme as part of new laws to regulate tech firms.
The Online Harms Bill, due to be introduced later this year, is expected to force platforms, such as Facebook and Google, to abide by a duty of care to users, overseen by Ofcom as the new regulator for the sector.
The call to crack down on anonymous users comes amid a continuing problem with online abuse, underlined by the racist insults directed at footballers on social media.
Speaking at Westminster, Labour former Scottish first minister Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale said: “This is not just a problem for famous people. If anything it is a much more serious problem for members of the public.”
The peer highlighted the example of mothers campaigning in Scotland last year to get schools reopened “being attacked by anonymous Cybernats”.
He said: “Twitter is a real problem here. There is a very simple solution and that would be for them or the Government to ban anonymous accounts on Twitter.
“That would stop the abuse. It would ensure that anybody who tries to be abusive or threatening can be prosecuted and it would be a simple measure for them given the scale of the operation now to introduce.
“Will the Government call them in, insist on it and if they will not do it themselves do it for them?”
Digital, culture, media and sport minister Baroness Barran said: “Banning anonymous accounts is not as simple as he suggests. They provide important protection for a wide range of vulnerable people as well as journalists’ sources and others.
“So these are complex issues which we aim to address through the (Online Harms) Bill.”
Tory peer Baroness Fookes said: “I share the concern about ordinary people who are humiliated and persecuted.
“Could I suggest to the minister that when looking at strengthening the law, they look particularly at the penalties on (social) media companies who do not obey increased laws.
“Nothing has more effect than hitting the pocket.”
Lady Barran said: “The framework will aim to protect all users, particularly children and vulnerable users.”
She pointed out the maximum fine that could be levied in the future for non-compliance would be 10% of global turnover.
Independent crossbencher Viscount Colville of Culross said: “Facebook has already got a real names policy but users often provide fake ID.
“To enforce real name identity, a Government-backed ID scheme would have to be introduced.
“However, bearing in mind the current public suspicion of surrendering personal data to tech platforms, can the minister tell the house whether there are any plans for the Government to introduce such a digital ID policy for all users?”
Lady Barran said: “The Government has an open mind on all of these issues.
“He will be aware that the secretary of state has indicated he is minded to have pre-legislative scrutiny, which will give the chance for transparent and robust scrutiny of issues such as this.”