Does being verified on Twitter matter?
This is something I’ve considered at various times – my personal account is not verified, I applied when Twitter opened up verification to all users last year, but got rejected. At first, I was disappointed, but then I saw the raft of people who were getting verified in the wake of this announcement.
In the past, verification had been reserved for public figures, but the new process lead to a whole heap of people getting the verified checkmark, many of whom would not have qualified under the previous requirements. That's subsequently diluted the status of the tick - of course, I’m saying this as someone who was rejected, of course I’m more likely to talk it down. But objectively, it did seem like the rules behind verification were a bit confused, that Twitter itself didn’t seem to know who or why they were verifying certain users.
That’s been somewhat confirmed this week, with Twitter being caught up in yet another controversy around their own platform rules and policies, and their application in practice.
The platform recently verified the profile of reported a white supremacist leader, despite vowing to take more action against hate speech. Once again, this has raised questions about Twitter's internal policies, which has lead to Twitter announcing that it’s suspending account verifications entirely till it can work out what’s happening.
Verification was meant to authenticate identity & voice but it is interpreted as an endorsement or an indicator of importance. We recognize that we have created this confusion and need to resolve it. We have paused all general verifications while we work and will report back soon— Twitter Support (@TwitterSupport) November 9, 2017
This then lead to Twitter’s GM of Consumer Product tweeting:
We should have stopped the current process at the beginning of the year. We knew it was busted as people confuse ID verification with endorsement. Have to fix the system, pausing until we do. https://t.co/HSLbJOG2AN— Ed Ho (@mrdonut) November 9, 2017
So, Twitter knew there were issues with the system, but has done nothing to fix it. Unfortunately, this description very much seems to capture Twitter’s approach to many of their various problems.
But even more confusing, as noted by The Next Web’s Matt Navarra, Twitter’s own documentation on verification outlines the exact, conflicted reasoning that Ho describes.
So, on one hand, Twitter’s saying that verification is simply a means of authenticating a person’s identity – which would make it a fairly straight-forward process (produce documents proving your identity and you get verified, no matter your public status). Yet on the other, Twitter’s own documentation, and seemingly their own verification process, is geared towards endorsing high profile voices, as deemed by Twitter’s team.
Which raises the question – what does the blue tick actually mean?
Twitter, as noted, has acknowledged that they’ve caused this confusion, so pausing the process to fix it makes sense. But it does seem that Twitter has been applying varying approaches to verification for some time, that most of those approved have been high-profile or public figures, but increasingly, also random users who've taken the time to apply. Which leaves users confused as to whether they too should apply for a checkmark - and whether they should take more heed of messages from those with the verified indicator.
Of course, there’s more to Twitter verification than just the profile badge. Verified users also have access to additional features, including a verified-only notification system which lets you filter replies to show only those from verified accounts. Verified users are also more likely to appear higher in relevant search results, and people can even use Twitter’s advanced search features to filter their search results to only tweets from verified accounts.
It’s not overly prestigious, nor highly beneficial for most, but there are additional benefits to being verified, so there are reasons, beyond the ego boost, as to why you’d want to qualify.
The approach of verifying users based on identity - not profile – actually makes a lot of sense. As noted by TechCrunch’s Josh Constine in a recent post on the challenges of free speech, if platforms were to require some form of validation, and connection to a real person (by, for example, requiring a phone number), that would, potentially, reduce instances of abuse and trolling, because such perpetrators could be more easily identified, as opposed to remaining anonymous – and simply starting new accounts when blocked or banned.
In this sense, Twitter could use verification as a form of confirmation, with the process itself aligning each user to their real-world identity. In that application, users who were facing issues with trolls or abuse could simply switch on the filter to remove any non-verified users from their feed, which would, theoretically, eliminate many of Twitter’s abuse issues.
But then again, that would also totally dilute the status of having a verified account, which Twitter might be hesitant to do, due to fears of how current verified celebrities might take this.
Either way, it’s another embarrassing error for Twitter – as noted by one user recently.
what if the reason for 280 characters was just that twitter got frustrated with how many tweets their daily apology threads required https://t.co/IEzXmWaslM— Alyssa Ross (@qyliss) November 7, 2017
And it’s true, Twitter seems to be putting out spot fires every other day, which can only be slowing their development of newer tools and options designed to inspire growth.
The verification confusion is just another step – and until Twitter itself knows what verification means, it’s impossible for users to understand whether they should be paying more attention to verified users, or whether they should apply for verification itself.
It’s good that Twitter's acknowledged this confusion, and is looking to resolve it, but it once again underlines the level of mixed messages within the company – the kind of confusion that can lead to an outgoing employee de-activating its most high-profile account.