Twitter Verification To Be Better Understood Under Now-CEO Musk

Musk is correct that Twitter's current verification system could be significantly improved. Twitter verification has always been a mess, but not because it is sometimes viewed as a status symbol.

Twitter Verification To Be Better Understood Under Now-CEO Musk - SurgeZirc Nigeria
Twitter Verification To Be Better Understood Under Now-CEO Musk.

Elon Musk has only been in charge of Twitter for a few days, but he is already causing significant disruption. Few of his ideas have sparked as much debate as his plan to charge for verification as part of a larger overhaul of Twitter’s subscription service, Blue.

He described the current system as “bullshit,” and stated that his plan is to include verification as a perk to Twitter Blue, which will increase in price from $5 to $8 per month.

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All users who pay will receive the checkmark, while those who do not will lose it, even if they were verified under Twitter’s previous system. Subscriptions will also reduce ads and increase account visibility in replies and searches, acting as an anti-shadowban.

While Musk’s plans may win him some supporters among those who oppose the concept of “blue check Twitter,” they also demonstrate that he fundamentally misunderstands verification. And, while he is correct that the current system is broken, charging for verification would exacerbate the problem rather than solve it.

Verification is about authenticity

Musk’s plan ignores the purpose of verification in the first place: to convey authenticity. Because Twitter does not have a real-names policy, a verified badge assists in determining whether an account belongs to the person or entity whose name appears at the top.

“The blue Verified badge on Twitter lets people know that an account of public interest is authentic,” according to Twitter’s help centre.

It may appear to some as a status symbol, but it is given to journalists, celebrities, public officials, and other notable figures because there is an inherent risk in not verifying those people.

“Verification was never meant to convey status. It was simply a way for Twitter to address impersonation attempts,” says Nu Wexler, a policy consultant and former policy communications rep at Twitter.

However, Musk appears unconcerned about impersonation. In response to a question about newly verified users impersonating Musk, he said, “that already happens very frequently.”

Musk is correct in this regard. It is a well-known scam to hack verified accounts and then change their profiles to look like Musk.

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However, getting rid of these types of con artists was allegedly one of his primary motivations for purchasing Twitter for $44 billion in the first place. (Ironically, according to Twitter’s head of safety, scammers are already using the prospect of paid verification as a phishing ploy.)

Impersonation scams can have real consequences, as actor Robert Kazinsky pointed out in a viral Twitter thread. “I don’t tweet much, I am scared of the internet, I struggle with a lot of things in life.

But this account exists so that fake accounts can’t,” he wrote, adding that in the past people impersonating him online have used his identity to start conversations with children.

Making verification solely dependent on who is willing to pay for it could have even more serious consequences for misinformation spread. Twitter is used by public officials, government agencies, journalists, activists, and others all over the world to communicate important information to the general public.

Making their verification conditional on payment, or making it easier for others to impersonate them, would undermine Musk’s vision of Twitter as a “town square.”

Verification has always been confusing and unfair

Musk is correct that Twitter’s current verification system could be significantly improved. Twitter verification has always been a mess, but not because it is sometimes viewed as a status symbol.

The truth is that Twitter has never fully explained how verification works or why some people receive it while others do not. It was introduced in 2009, but there was no public-facing request tool until 2016.

Instead, for nearly a decade, the company quietly verified celebrities, journalists, and other public figures primarily through backchannel connections made by agents and public relations staffers. As a result, even some public figures who clearly qualified for it were unable to be verified.

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The decision to make verification requests available to the public in 2016 was supposed to solve this problem. However, after verifying a white nationalist, the company paused the effort a little more than a year after opening public requests.

One solution would be to separate verification and identity authentication. And even Musk seems to recognize the need for additional context for some accounts. He said there “will be a secondary tag below the name for someone who is a public figure, which is already the case for politicians.”

An early version of this appears to have already surfaced, on Dorsey’s Twitter account, which according to a screenshot of an internal build of the service, had an “official account” label underneath his blue check.

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