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No Mercy / No Malice: ID
The Prof G Pod with Scott Galloway
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I'm Scott Galloway and this is No Mercy, No Malax.
Across social media, we can be whoever we want.
And we regularly interact with people whose name isn't their real name nor face their real face.
The ID free for all that has been social media needs to end.
ID has read by Georgetown.
In 1791, an obscure barreness entered daughters left Paris in a carriage headed west.
Along the way, at Sont Mini Hood, their male servant went to change horses.
And the town's postmaster, John Baptiste Dreway, thought he looked familiar.
Dreway took out a banknote and confirmed from the face printed on the back, the servant's identity.
King Louis XVI, who was supposed to be confined to his palace under revolutionary guard.
Within hours, the servant was detained at Veren.
It was a costly ID, two years later, an executioner would hold up the king's recognizable head.
The ability to dawn a disguise and take on a new personality is in our DNA.
It's key to the plot in half of Shakespeare's plays and the focus of my favorite holiday.
Our nation's liberty was one with the aid of anonymity.
Madison, Hamilton, and Jay wrote the federalist papers as Publius, been Franklin and Thomas Payne often wrote anonymously.
On the flip side, state tracking of identity should not be taken lightly,
Seenazi Germany, the Soviet block, and modern China.
In some, identity can be weaponized.
In its early days, the internet seemed like a haven for reinvention and anonymity.
However, unchecked anonymity online is not working.
The prevalence of anonymous accounts and bots has evolved into a sociopolitical scourge.
It has threatened the integrity of our elections, divided our nation,
and, as Jonathan Height put it, systematically made us more stupid.
We should change course and require proof of identity online.
And forced ID won't solve these problems, but it would be a step in the right direction.
Binding ourselves to the administrative state sounds ominous.
You have papers, please.
But verified identity is a cornerstone of modern life.
In the two centuries since Louis XVI inadvertently created himself a photo ID,
we have institutionalized identification.
In 1803, Napoleon introduced internal ID cards for workers,
which reduced the levels of trust needed to transact and employ unleashing economic growth.
Other nations followed suit.
In World War II, fear of saboteurs and spies spurred heightened ID requirements.
The rise of the administrative state in the years after rendered persistent identification essential.
Today, drivers licenses, passports, social security numbers, email addresses,
and a hundred other pins and flags of personal identifiable information,
tag us like endangered species and a reserve.
Nearly 90% of the world's population has some form of official identification,
and we couldn't function without it.
Keeping dangerous drivers away from our highways, psychopaths off our airplanes,
and 14 year olds out of our bars makes a safer and lubricate economic growth.
Nobody likes paying taxes, but automation makes it reasonably fair and efficient.
When we moved to London this year,
I rented our house in Miami to a family I never met,
and it didn't occur to me to do so,
because the infrastructure of banks and agents and bureaucrats knew both our identities,
and they'll track either party down if we don't live up to our end of the bargain.
Yet our appreciation and enforcement of identification has not extended online.
When the internet appeared, we took to anonymity like Louis fleeing the Viren.
We could be anyone, go anywhere, say and do anything.
Online freedom from institutionalized ID has virtues big and small.
No interesting adult human is the same person in every context,
so it's best for all concern that I don't know my employees read and handles,
and they don't know mine.
Note, don't have one.
Online anonymity allows us to try on new identities or express our true ones.
Honest expression can be dangerous in many contexts and communities.
On the geopolitical scale, protests against oppression,
like we're seeing right now from brave women in Iran,
are often coordinated and leveraged using anonymous accounts.
That freedom has come at a cost, however,
and the downside is both too great and not necessary.
Similar to oil's extraction and conversion to energy,
converting attention to influence and purchases produces emissions.
When users can hide behind pseudonymous user names with anime profile pictures,
many of the real life disincentives for acting well,
shitty, just disappear.
For decades, studies have demonstrated how crowds, anonymity,
and obscurity unleashed our worst instincts.
There's a term for the online version,
the quote unquote, online disinhibition effect.
Research shows anonymity is an accurate predictor of cyberbullying.
It also causes a lack of empathy.
In sum, when we don't have guardrails or face consequences,
we're prone to being assholes.
And the incentives of ad driven media promote the most aggressive
and uncivil among us to prominence,
coarsening the discourse further and crowding out a key component
of civilization's progress, civility.
At least in the physical world,
the number of assholes is capped at one per human.
But thanks to technology and its leadership
which hides behind the illusion of complexity,
no limits exist online.
A single human can be a virtually infinite number of masked,
Russia has been using armies of bots
to so seeds of unrest in America for years.
A recent New York Times article revealed
how Putin's regime used bots to pit Americans
against one another in 2017.
Pretending to be real Americans,
Russian operatives posted aggressive and inflammatory tweets
about the leadership of the nascent women's march movement.
One message gained traction,
targeting a movement cochair with racial and religious abuse.
It shattered the organization.
Now China is getting in on the action.
Verifying online identity is not a new idea.
It was actually the original plan.
For years, Facebook demanded its users go
by their quote unquote authentic name.
Google had a real name policy
for its now abandoned Google plus social network.
Google's policy was described as
evil, dangerous, and abuse of power.
Facebooks was criticized for being racist and transphobic.
These criticisms reflect real issues.
The list of situations in which attaching your real name
to a public online profile can be unreasonable
or dangerous is extensive.
But these concerns can also be addressed.
The real reason the platforms open the door
in the box and fake accounts, short, term, profits.
Fanning the flames of instability generates traffic,
at least at first, which means more inventory
to sell to advertisers.
Now that our online world has been rendered
a postapocalyptic dystopia with the living
and the undead wandering amongst one another,
the platforms claim that cleaning up the mess is just too difficult.
The illusion of complexity is a bullshit wrapped
performed by incumbents who want to protect
and enhance their wealth.
If Amazon can figure out a way to ensure
that reviews for Lord of the Rings are from genuine viewers,
shouldn't we expect the same veracity
regarding our elections, vaccines, and asset values?
There is broad public support
for identity verification online.
80% of US adults support verification for creating accounts
to be clear, there should be safe spaces
and platforms where people can remain anonymous.
We all have the right to send confidential messages to others
and to not have our data surveilled or used against us
or without our knowledge.
But when you mix real and fake accounts
and profit from the explosive results,
you're not pursuing anonymity, but fraud.
Under no your customer laws or KYC laws,
certain companies, mostly in financial services,
are required to obtain credentials
that prove the identities of their customers.
Providing the infrastructure for compliance with these laws
is a growth industry.
The average US bank spends up to $130
to validate the identity of each new customer
and roughly $60 million a year.
Globally, it's a $1.4 billion market.
KYC isn't perfect, as we learn every few years
with another document dump detailing
how the rich and powerful US shell companies
and lacks jurisdictions to hide their wealth.
But the complexity of those schemes
is testimony to the robustness of the system
they seek to circumvent.
Just compare traditional banking with the
anonymous crypto version, so called defy,
which suffers from a massive fraud problem.
Over $12 billion was stolen in 2021 alone.
The success of KYC proves we can build secure systems
to confirm that a real live human is attached
to every online identity,
and to provide recourse if that human breaks the law.
Platforms can employ KYC directly,
requiring ID for every new sign up
and limiting the number of accounts each person can control.
But not everyone wants to have to trust
meta with their personal information,
because the company's data security team
is about as reliable as man used back for.
Sorry, had to.
Social media is untrustworthiness
is a business opportunity, however.
The solution to confirming online identity
is a profitable layer or middleman in waiting.
Users can set up a single identity account
with a trusted provider who then vouch
for the uniqueness of that user
with any social media company
or other online business
where they open an account.
Sort of a clear for platforms.
First in line for this role is still big tech.
If you've signed up for any new website service lately,
you've probably been offered the chance to sign in with Google
or sign in with Apple.
Even meta is in on this,
hoping you'll forget about its track record.
It's not going well.
But consumer trust is everything here.
And these companies have revenue goals
that depend on harvesting your data,
selling you stuff and manipulating you,
not keeping your data safe.
If big tech can't earn our collective trust,
such that we're willing to give them the key
to our online identities,
an alternative model is emerging.
Pure play identity companies
that are financially incentivized to maintain security,
not sell more ads or upgrade your phone.
There are some startups working on this.
Footprint, for example,
is the security company that stores important user data
and then verifies the information
for the user is onboarded to other platforms,
Once an identity is affixed to an account,
a platform could decide whether to permit pseudonyms.
LinkedIn likely sees little value in anonymous accounts
and Facebook's basic premise is in opposition to pseudonyms.
Both brands would benefit from maintaining an environment
where real people post under their real names,
perhaps with exceptions for worthy cases.
Twitter, on the other hand,
might see the virtue and continued anonymity
and even allowing multiple accounts,
a subscription perk perhaps,
but it could wipe away its bot problem with KYC.
A no anonymous account Twitter competitor might also emerge.
Why would platforms do this?
Even in the current environment,
there's a business case for fixing identity online.
Bots and fake accounts are a cancer on these platforms,
and they drive content creators away.
The vast majority of Twitter users may not encounter
the bot problem directly,
since there is minimal engagement on most tweets.
But having a reasonably large following,
I can confirm the bot problem is severe.
When I discuss crypto,
Elon or Tesla, VC backed firms valuations
or say anything Trump,
an army of Joey Bag and Numbers accounts floods my mentions.
Most of it is noise,
but some of the replies clearly coordinated attacks
from accounts wearing masks are just troubling.
Nobody would say this trough out loud,
and I don't endure a fraction of the grief others do.
We can dial up the incentives further
by tying social media sacred 230 protections
to robust KYC standards.
Section 230 is the US law
that protects social media companies,
any online publisher,
from liability for user created content.
But an implicit assumption behind 230
is that the user, who remains liable
for harms their content causes,
can be brought to justice.
Which is an empty assumption
when the platform is handing out accounts
to spoofed phone numbers and burner email accounts.
We can absolutely provide anonymity to good actors
and should begin the process of carbon capture
of the toxicity platforms emit
under some adjacent cries of free speech or privacy.
Last week, California passed the Flash Act.
Now you can be fine if you send a pick of your junk
to someone who didn't ask for it.
Shouldn't we also have diss incentives for people
pretending to be someone else
or thousands or millions of someone else's
or harassing or misleading people?
When you step up to the bar that is discourse
in our society,
you should be asked the same question
that used to bother but now delights me.
Life is so rich.
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