Twitter’s Complicated and Messy Verification Process

Twitter’s verification process has been a mess since it launched. It was long only offered by invitation to public figures; but, in 2016, the company created a process for the general public to become verified. Even though Twitter still limited verification to people deemed notable enough, it acknowledged that there were individuals who may have been missed by a company run by young men in California.

In November 2017 Twitter announced it would be suspending its public verification process after an organizer of a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia that resulted in the murder of Heather Heyer was found to be a verified Twitter user. However, the company never actually stopped verifying accounts. Cale Guthrie Weissman reported in 2018 for Fast Company that users were still being given a checkmark; and, today, Karissa Bell reports for Mashable that the process has continued:

Celebrities, and others with backchannel connections to the company, are able to become verified as Twitter ignores everyday users and those without insider access. In many ways, this secretive process is now more opaque and unfair than it was when anyone could apply on Twitter’s website. At a time when Twitter says it’s trying to be more transparent about its rules, the lack of an official verification policy is hurting groups already susceptible to abuse, critics say.

Twitter argued that it never intended for verification to be a sign of importance — only a way to indicate a real account belonging to a more public figure. Surely, though, if it’s something that’s open exclusively to those it invites to be verified, that’s an implicit assumption that the person is prominent enough for the company to reach out.

Twitter seems utterly confused about what its verification program ought to be. Should it be just a simple way to communicate that an account is run by a real person or company, rather than an impersonator or a robot? Should it be only for public figures? What is a public figure anyhow, in Twitter’s view? How big of a following does a band or a press photographer or a sound recordist need to have for them to be considered notable in Twitter’s eyes?

Most of the special features of verification have been opened up to all users, though I’ve heard that verified users see fewer ads. So the special feature of verification really is the badge — the indication of public visibility and importance. I don’t think it will ever shake a feeling that users bearing it on their profiles are special. I’m not sure Twitter does enough to recognize that or understand the implications of continuing to show a verified badge on Paul Joseph Watson’s profile, for example, and every nonsense tweet he produces from his internal fountain of fecal matter.