“The system is broken.”
Twitter’s tone-deaf decision to acknowledge Kessler’s account as one that is “of public interest” stunned the Twitter population, since most were well aware of his role in organizing the disastrous “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which ended in the death of one counter protester.
Dorsey’s comments followed Twitter’s official announcement that it was pushing the pause button on Twitter verification.
Few would argue with Dorsey’s sentiment, that the system needs to be “reconsidered,” but his claim that “our agents have been following our verification policy correctly” makes no sense since whatever policies Twitter has been following over the last few years has been opaque at best.
Twitter’s Verification page offers some insight
An account may be verified if it is determined to be an account of public interest. Typically this includes accounts maintained by users in music, acting, fashion, government, politics, religion, journalism, media, sports, business, and other key interest areas.
Public interest is just the kind of fuzzy language that led us to this moment. Who, exactly decides what is and isn’t of public interest?
The (verification) badge of honor
I’m verified and was over the moon when it happened to me five years ago. It was so long ago that I can honestly say I have no idea how it happened or why. I’m obviously not a celebrity. I don’t think what I do rises to the level of public interest. I’m just a journalist telling stories. However, soon after I was verified, I noticed more and more journalists and those associated with media entities being brought into the verified tent. Soon, that little blue check didn’t feel so special.
Ever since then, I’ve often wondered:
What is the purpose of verification?
What should be the purpose?
Is it a badge of honor for people who earned experience points?
Is it recognition that you’re an A-, B-, C-, or even D-List celebrity?
Is it a protection against impersonation and fraud?
The last reason was always my go-to and, I hate to say this, but, when looked at that way, you might say, “Oh, that’s why Twitter verified Kessler. Love him or hate him, he’s just the kind of person on Twitter someone might try to impersonate (they could wreak havoc with his way-right-leaning followers).”
Twitter’s verification About page does state, “A verified badge does not imply an endorsement by Twitter.”
Those angered by Kessler’s verification saw it as some kind of endorsement not only for Kessler, but for his ideals as well. But if Twitter’s verification page is to be believed, they’re just verifying accounts “of the public interest.”
If that’s the case, then why isn’t Julian Assange verified? Surely what the WikiLeaks founder represents and publishes online is “of the public interest,” but Twitter hasn’t or won’t verify Assange’s account. Assange has comically created his own fake verified mark for his Twitter account.
For instance PewDiePie and Milo were both stripped of verification. And Twitter refused to verify Julian Assange. It means something to them
— Matt Novak (@paleofuture) November 8, 2017
The truth is, there is no policy. Twitter’s verification checkmark is handed out capriciously and, as Business Reporter Kerry Flynn pointed out in her Instagram and Twitter verification expose, it’s sometimes handed out to the highest bidder.
These days, to get Twitter Verified, it’s clearly not who you are, but who you know. Some of it is very above board, but still frustrating to Twitter users who thought the Blue Check was a valid form of social media identity protection.
Over the years, I’ve had numerous conversations about the verification issue with longtime Twitter user William Shatner.
The octogenarian actor has been tweeting up a storm to his 2.5 million followers for almost a decade and, over the years, has butted heads with many social media managers, occasionally publicly questioning their verified status.
The blue verified check on Twitter accounts is a signal of implied value.
Shatner told me he was pleased to hear about the pause and recalibration of Twitter’s verification system.
“Verification has always been a slippery slope…. It’s gone from being a trust mechanism to a badge of online social status where employers use their ability to verify as a reward to employees,” he told me over Twitter DMs.
Shatner also still believes Twitter needs a verification system, “to prevent the onslaught of sock puppet accounts that trolls of social media use to attack.”
Verification is clearly the first line of defense for that kind of attack, but the blue verified check on Twitter accounts is also a signal of implied value.
I know that I pay more attention to tweets from verified accounts than I do from random Twitter users. Twitter even offers users the ability to only view content from verified accounts.
if verification were *really* intended to authenticate identity, an easy solution to this would be verifying all real users’ identities with blue checkmarks. would be a direct solution to twitter’s bot problem too!
— maya kosoff (@mekosoff) November 9, 2017
Some have suggested verification status should be granted to anyone and everyone who verifies their identity on Twitter. If you can prove you are who you say you are with a birth certificate, passport, driver’s license, or some other form of ID, you get the blue check.
That would make verified status so common Twitter might use it as the ticket to get on the platform at all. If it did, it would kill virtually all anonymous accounts and most bots as well. It would also kill humor accounts, pop-up meme accounts, animal accounts, and pretty much anything else that couldn’t be verified.
It might also cut down the number of active Twitter users by millions (if not more).
Shatner suggested to me a tiered system.
“I’ve always held there should be levels of verification perhaps with different colored check marks to distinguish a trust level with accounts that the public should trust versus those that have verified their personal identity,” he told me.
Instead of blue checks, we’d get blue, green yellow, black, etc. That might help, and it also might make Twitter’s verification system even more confusing. People will argue endlessly about which level they belong at.
Twitter could also go in the other direction, and make the blue checkmark much more exclusive. It could declare tomorrow that the only accounts that get it are public figures and brands. For accounts that don’t fit into one of those two buckets, a minimum follower count of 100,000 seems like a good floor (with that many followers, you’re basically a public figure anyway).
Whatever it decides, Twitter is doing the right thing by fixing a system that’s broken. It’s just too bad Twitter itself, by never being consistent about the verification process or even the rationale, was the one who broke it in the first place.
And for the record, I’d very much like to keep my blue check. Please.