How Elon Musk Can Resolve His Pseudonym Conundrum

Tesla's founder has the ability to kill two birds with one stone.

Elon Musk's latest offer for Twitter has sparked a lot of speculation about the platform's future.

Musk has made various pledges, including making Twitter a stronghold of free speech, revealing the Twitter algorithm to the public, and declaring war on spam bots. Musk said his acquisition was "on hold" on Friday pending an examination of false accounts on the platform.

Of course, one of the biggest concerns is that, without control, people may be mislead by inaccurate or false tweets. While these anxieties are mainly unfounded, there is one concern among Twitter users that stands out to me.

Because of some uncertainty in Musk's statement, some Twitter users are concerned that all accounts will require identity verification. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has expressed similar reservations.

Pseudonymous or alternative accounts (alts) have long been a staple of Twitter. They have costs and advantages.

The expense of alternates is obvious. People can speak nasty or inaccurate things at a reduced cost when they are not linked to real identities. It isn't news that online anonymity can bring out the worst in individuals. People can hide behind alts to avoid being held accountable for their words. It's not a big problem if the alt is banned. Alts breed toxicity because they have no skin in the game.

While there are obvious drawbacks to anonymity, there are also some advantages to consider. Having your true identify linked to social media, for example, can encourage self-censorship. People may keep their ideas to themselves rather than discussing them with others for fear of mobs harming their employers or family.

So here's the conundrum: How might Musk maintain anonymity while giving the accounts enough skin in the game to be courteous if he were considering switching to pseudonymous accounts?

Everything has a market

Although it may appear daunting, Musk sees one possible solution: selling anonymity.

There are two steps to the solution. First, anyone wishing to verify their identity or allegiance might be given the option to do so and utilize the platform for free. In the present verification process, Twitter could do this with whatever paperwork is used to authenticate someone's identification. Many crypto exchanges, for example, now require identification verification by state-issued ID uploads.

For users whose accounts represent their verified identity/affiliation, Twitter remains the same after this initial verification.

Second, any accounts that do not want to go through the aforementioned process to prove they are "actual persons" can pay to have their "confirmed" status purchased. Instead of uploading documents to establish your identity, you pay a one-time fee and are good to go.

In summary, all users must either use papers to authenticate their identity or pay a one-time charge to retain their accounts pseudonymous.

This brings the concept of skin back into the game.

Those who study economics are well aware that having property encourages cautious behavior. As more users block an anonymous account that uses Twitter to flame others, it will become less important. Finally, any account that participates in prohibited behavior (such as issuing threats) faces permanent removal.

Instead of merely creating a new burner account, the user would now be required to pay a charge to create a new anonymous alt. As a result, while individuals retain their anonymity, they are discouraged from misbehaving on the platform since they risk losing money if they do.

Of course, there are some drawbacks to this strategy. Although anonymous users may dislike having to pay, having the option seems preferable to being blocked if verification is refused. In this sense, the proposal is preferable to a "demand verification or be banned" plan for anonymous users.

Another complaint might be that someone with a lot of money might simply pay to be obnoxious, but I think this is fine. People that are obnoxious on the internet are unlikely to go away, so the best we can do is make them waste their money.

Finally, the fear that payment may lead to identification is a valid concern, even though crypto choices appear to be a simple solution for a corporation founded by Elon Musk.

What should the fee of creating a pseudonymous account be? That is well beyond my pay grade. But one of the wonderful things is that even a small price will stack up over time for frequent offenders, so the number is less important than the principle of having to pay something.

The charge system's flexibility is another feature. A price that is too expensive will degrade conversation quality as good "alts" leave, resulting in decreased ad revenue. On the other hand, a charge that is too low would promote more irritating burners, resulting in less traffic and ad revenue. Twitter will be able to use profit and loss calculations to balance these two effects.

As a result, verified humans no longer have to deal with a slew of unpleasant burner identities, interesting and thought-provoking anonymous accounts have the choice to buy in, skin in the game is retained, and the anonymity that fosters meaningful debate is preserved.

It appears to be a win-win situation when compared to the alternatives of banning alts entirely or allowing them to run amok.

Alts for life.


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