Nikki Haley partially backtracks on push to verify social media users

Republican presidential contender Nikki Haley has partially backtracked on her pledge to force social media users to publicly show their real names if she is elected following outrage from her GOP competitors.

In an interview with Fox News on Tuesday, the former South Carolina governor claimed that online anonymity is a "national security threat" and that her policy would "get rid of" foreign bot armies.

Ms Haley’s Republican rivals immediately pushed back. Presidential hopeful Vivek Ramaswamy called her idea “disgusting,” adding: “Alexander Hamilton, John Jay & James Madison wrote the Federalist Papers under pseudonym. Here’s what they would say to Nikki Haley if they were alive: get your heels off my neck & go back to England.”

Florida Gov Ron DeSantis echoed an hour later on X, “You know who were anonymous writers back in the day? Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison when they wrote the Federalist Papers.”

Mr DeSantis added that these founding fathers “were not ‘national security threats,’ nor are the many conservative Americans across the country who exercise their Constitutional right to voice their opinions without fear of being harassed.” The Florida Republican called Ms Haley’s proposal “dangerous and unconstitutional.”

Mr Ramaswamy’s deputy director of communications slammed Ms Haley as “a literal tyrant”.

“Every person on social media should be verified by their name," the ex-South Carolina governor said while unveiling her proposal.

“First of all, it's a national security threat. When you do that, all of a sudden people have to stand by what they say. And it gets rid of the Russian bots, the Iranian bots, and the Chinese bots,” Ms Haley said.

“Then you're going to get some civility – when people know their name is next to what they say, and they know their pastor and their family members are gonna see it,” she added. “It's gonna help our kids, and it's gonna help our country.”

Ms Haley, who was previously the US's ambassador to the United Nations, said that the policy would be among her first acts as president, although she did not explain how she would go about implementing it with the powers available to her.

Appearing on CNBC on Wednesday, Ms Haley began to walk back her comments, saying that even though “life would be more civil if we were able to do that”, she was focused on foreign actors and not American citizens.

“I don’t mind anonymous American people having free speech – what I don’t like is anonymous Russians and Chinese and Iranians having free speech,” she said.

“What Nikki doesn’t support is letting the Chinese and Iranians create anonymous accounts to spread chaos and anti-American filth among our people,” Haley campaign spokesperson Olivia Perez-Cubas said on Wednesday, according to the Associated Press. “Social media companies have to do a way better job policing that.”

The debate over the value of online anonymity stretches back to the earliest days of the internet. Figures across the political spectrum have repeatedly suggested that forcing social media users to put their real names next to their words would make the web safer and more civil.

But academic research does not support that notion, with one 2016 meta-analysis finding that anonymity was actually associated with greater conformity to group rules and norms.

A similar policy in South Korea between 2008 and 2012 does not appear to have reduced online rudeness or promotion of conspiracy theories over the long term, although it did precede a massive cyberattack in which 35 million users' personal details were stolen.

Verifying users' identities is also a difficult task, often requiring companies to collect scans of ID documents such as passports, thereby increasing the risk of cybercrime.

Ms Haley is currently in third place for the Republican nomination in 2024, according to an average of polls by FiveThirtyEight, trailing behind Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis with around nine per cent of the vote.