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Protecting Educational Integrity: The Role of Online Identity Verification

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In response to fraudulent exam papers circulating on social media platforms, online identity verification is crucial in protecting educational integrity. The return to pre-pandemic grading standards has led to more students failing their GCSEs, making the purchase of these papers an enticing proposition. Social media platforms must implement robust online identity verification measures: consumer demand is strong, and such a move would be in tune with the Online Safety Bill currently in progress through Parliament. Online identity verification is crucial for a safer digital environment and the safeguarding of vulnerable students.

This summer, the number of top grades awarded to GCSE students fell significantly after exam boards returned to pre-pandemic grading standards. Hundreds of thousands more teenagers have failed one or more of their GCSEs as the “exams reset” began to take effect.

Beyond the challenges posed by changes in grading standards, there is a related but equally pressing issue plaguing the education system — the spread of fraudulent exam papers on social media platforms. Exam resits take place in GCSE English and Maths in the autumn, which means there’s likely to be another increase in the number of social media accounts falsely claiming to sell genuine exam papers. For the integrity of the education system, it’s vital that we prioritise online identity verification to prevent fraudsters from preying on the anxiety and desperation of vulnerable students at times of high stress.

Social media platforms can mitigate risks

The internet and social media have powered remarkable innovations in EdTech, not least during the pandemic. While these advantages are to be welcomed, it’s important that players in the space don’t lose sight of the risks made possible by anonymity. The BBC reported the sale of incredibly expensive fake exam papers this summer, and this trend looks set to continue in the absence of adequate safeguards.

Thankfully for businesses, reinforcing educational integrity is a shared responsibility. While exam boards have a role to play in maintaining standards, social media platforms must do their utmost to ensure that their platforms are not used to facilitate this kind of fraud. By implementing robust online identity verification – i.e., by being asked to take a selfie and a photo of their government-issued ID – at the account opening stage, it’s likely that a user seeking to exploit the platform for this means would be deterred, not wanting their real identity to be associated with this kind of fraud.

Consumer demand for verification

Luckily robust identity verification measures aren’t something that would have a detrimental impact on the ‘good’ users, using the platforms as intended. In fact, according to our most recent Online Consumer Identity study, over half (54%) of UK adults believe that biometric verification should be implemented for social media. The only sector in which consumers place higher importance on using biometric verification is financial services (71%), reflecting the strong demand for enhanced security and authenticity on social media platforms.

This appetite for a more robust ecosystem is more than a passing trend. It’s indicative of a growing awareness among users about the need for trust and credibility online. With the right measures in place, social media platforms will not only help protect students but make their mark on a safer digital environment for all.

A turning point in online safety

What’s more, the passing of the Online Safety Bill should be seen as a stepping stone for companies to move in the right direction. It is hoped that the Bill will empower authorities to hold platforms accountable for the content their users share. Meta, Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat have all pledged to remove accounts promoting fraud or scams when flagged by moderators.

However, while this is a positive development, the age demographics of platforms like Instagram and TikTok, predominantly consisting of Gen Z and Millennials, make these platforms more vulnerable to exploitation by opportunistic fraudsters. Protecting this demographic from online fraud needs to be a top priority, and unfortunately, relying on user reporting and external moderation teams may not be sufficient. With the current regulatory grey area for fraud, platforms that pioneer robust online identity verification could play a central role in curbing the sale of fake exam papers.

In the pursuit of educational integrity, we must recognise that technology is a double-edged sword. While it presents opportunities for learning and growth, it can also open avenues for exploitation by anonymous fraudsters looking to take advantage of the next generation eager to get onto their next stage of education or careers. But the technology exists to help stamp this out. Robust online identity verification is an incredibly attractive prospect for platforms to rapidly implement and guarantee that the digital landscape remains secure, credible and trustworthy, ensuring a fair chance for every student, without negatively impacting the experience for other users.

By Philipp Pointner, Chief of Digital Identity at Jumio

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