How to Kill Fake Facebook Accounts and Preserve Privacy

If you're concerned that the proliferation of fake accounts on Facebook and Twitter could be skewing public opinion, helping to spread falsehoods and creating a nasty atmosphere, perhaps you should pay attention to the suggestions of Vitalik Buterin, the founder of the the digital currency platform Ethereum. (For those impressed with big sums of money, the market capitalization of ether, the Ethereum cryptocurrency, stands at $27.5 billion, second only to bitcoin.)

I had an argument with Buterin on Twitter the other day. He was outraged by a column I wrote, suggesting that Twitter and Facebook should require a credit card for account registration. I was arguing that the social networks are huge media companies that need to enforce order on their platforms.

Nobody, including the networks themselves, has an accurate idea of how many of their users are actual people. Fake accounts and bots are ubiquitous. Bullies act anonymously and with impunity. Fake stories and political propaganda are pushed to large audiences, amplified by botnets. Terror groups run circles around censors, which may be great for free speech but not for public security. So I want the networks to stop letting users have anonymity. If you're broadcasting to the world, as one does on Facebook and Twitter, you should be identified. Credit cards could verify people's identity.

Like many others, Buterin hated my suggestion. He argued that someone like James Damore, the Google engineer who had questioned the company's gender policies and was promptly fired for it, could have been protected by anonymity.

"Accepting such a consequence" as dismissal, "is admirable," Buterin wrote, "but that should not be the only path." Unpopular ideas, he argued, shouldn't be "relegated to the shadows of one-on-one messenger conversations." He noted that important contributions to progress have been made anonymously—bitcoin, for example, was invented by a pseudonymous "Satoshi Nakamoto." Privacy is important "to prevent everything in life from becoming a social signaling game," Buterin added.

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