Sarah Dawood is right to identify the apparent conflict between advocates of free speech and those concerned about online abuse and disinformation, particularly from unverified accounts (“The big online safety debate”, Spotlight, 19 November). However, there are practical, relatively modest measures that would have a significant impact. For example, rather than banning anonymity online, all users could be given the right to insist on being verified (with robust protections for the security of their data) and then permitted to filter out all replies and posts from unverified accounts. Polling by Opinium has shown that 81 per cent of social media users would opt to be verified and 72 per cent would exercise the choice to block unverified accounts.
Such a step would not interfere with anyone’s right to free speech and would avoid complex debates about acceptable content, but would also give users a choice over whether they should be forced to receive unwanted communications from the shadows.
Stephen Kinsella, Stroud, Gloucestershire, Founder of Clean Up The Internet
Johnson family values
The infamous 1982 school report from Eton classics master Martin Hammond to Stanley Johnson about his son Boris ended: “I think he honestly believes that it is churlish of us not to regard him as an exception, one who should be free of the network of obligation which binds everyone else”. It prompts the question: what was Stanley’s reaction? Ailbhe Rea’s excellent and courageous piece (“Why I spoke out about Stanley Johnson”, 26 November) suggests his response may have been along the lines of: “Like father, like son”.
David Murray, Wallington, Surrey
How masks help
Phil Whitaker (Health Matters, 26 November) ignores the logic that whatever the percentage benefit of mask-wearing for Covid protection, it is likely to be higher than zero. An earlier article in the same edition (“The fourth Covid wave crashes over Europe”) notes that caseloads in Spain are relatively light “thanks to high vaccine uptake”. Masks are also mandatory in enclosed spaces, and widely worn outdoors despite being optional. On a recent trip to the Canaries you could always identify UK tourists: they were the ones without masks.
Philip Bushill-Matthews, Leamington Spa, Warwickshire
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This article appears in the 01 Dec 2021 issue of the New Statesman, The virus strikes back