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Twitter Verification: The History of the Little Blue Badge

by Zia A., posted 4 months ago
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Earlier this spring, in a 47-minute live-stream on Periscope, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey made a major announcement – Twitter verification will soon be open to all. That’s right, the coveted blue checkmark is no longer the exclusive domain of celebrities and public figures, a mark of popularity and prestige. But, then again, was it ever intended to be the social media status symbol it’s become?

Twitter’s product director, David Gasca, says no.

“[The blue badge] came to have a lot of status associated with it, as well. They think of it as credibility. Twitter stands behind this person, Twitter believes that this person is someone that — what they’re saying is great and authentic, which is not at all what we mean by the checkmark.”

Twitter verification

The Beginning of Twitter Verification

Twitter’s verification program began in the summer of 2009 with a beta version of Verified Accounts. The program was a response to a lawsuit by St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa. La Russa sued after being impersonated on the social network. But that wasn’t the only impetus. Sources like TechCrunch noted that other celebs (including Kanye West) had also complained about the potential for impersonation. It was just way too easy to create a new account and pretend to be someone else.

Twitter verification

Twitter responded with Verified Accounts, introduced in a blog post authored by co-founder, Biz Stone. Titled Not Playing Ball, the post acknowledged that impersonation and authenticity were priorities the platform was working to address, and went on to say,

“We do recognize an opportunity to improve Twitter user experience and clear up confusion beyond simply removing impersonation accounts once alerted. We’ll be experimenting with a beta preview of what we’re calling Verified Accounts this summer…

The experiment will begin with public officials, public agencies, famous artists, athletes, and other well known individuals at risk of impersonation. We hope to verify more accounts in the future but due to the resources required, verification will begin only with a small set.”

Twitter Verification Today

Fast forward nine years and Twitter verification is once again a top priority for the platform. (In large part due to the proliferation of online trolls, bullies, spam bots, and attempts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election results.) Today, Twitter’s official word on the blue tick reads,

“The blue verified badge on Twitter lets people know that an account of public interest is authentic.”

But, as Gasca already pointed out, the blue badge does more than that. With an elusive and pretty loosely defined process for verification, Twitter’s blue badge evolved into a status symbol, a stand-in for popularity and presumed endorsement from the platform.

Hence the backlash when the company verified @TheMadDimension, an account owned by Jason Kessler. Kessler is a white nationalist who organized a neo-Nazi march. A week later, Twitter revoked his verification. In 2016 Twitter also removed the verification badge from Milo Yiannopoulos. A self-described supervillain, Yiannopoulos had apparently violated terms of service.

Critics were quick to point out that both Kessler and Yiannopoulos’ accounts, did actually belong to those individuals, so removing the badge didn’t seem to be an issue of authenticity, but more “an attempt by the service to remove any associated clout that came with the verification.” So really, what did the badge mean?

Verification for All

That brings us to the current story, where Dorsey and members of the senior team are now working to fix a process that, since the very start, has blurred the lines between verification and endorsement.

Twitter verification

The answer, they believe, is verification for all.

“The intention is to open verification to everyone and to do it in a way that is scalable [so] we’re not in the way and people can verify more facts about themselves and we don’t have to be the judge and imply any bias on our part.” Jack Dorsey

By removing human bias and making it available to everyone, maybe the badge will finally become what it was always intended to be – a mark of authenticity, not prestige.

For the moment it’s not clear exactly when verification will be open to all – Dorsey has said the expansion will roll out in stages. If you’re keen to get approved sooner rather than later, check out our blog post, featuring a step-by-step guide for the current process. And if you still have questions, read the official Twitter FAQ.

 

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