Why Twitter verification is a bit silly

Twitter’s verified tweeter process is less about verification and more about promotion

If you have a Twitter account, it’s highly likely that you’re following at least a few Tweeters who are ‘verified’ — celebrities, high-powered businessmen, sports stars, the (next) Pope.

Verification is a tag of authenticity. Represented by a blue tick on a user's profile page next to their name, it supposedly shows "high quality sources of information", suggesting you should "trust" their Tweets.

In recent months, Twitter’s verification team has been verifying an ever-increasing number of Australian Twitter users, usually in related groups. For example, in October 2012 a swathe of Australian Financial Review and Sydney Morning Herald journalists were blessed with blue ticks.

This morning, a bunch of Aussie technology journalists — myself included — received a direct message from @verified:

We at Twitter would like to verify your account. Please click this link and follow the instructions.

Click on the link, and you’re sent through a verification process of “three quick steps”. Here’s the problem, though — these steps have nothing to do with verifying your account, or your identity, in the way you’d expect.

At no point were there any identity-verifying questions asked, like: “Are you an Australian technology journalist, writing for @PCWorldAU?” “Did you write this brilliant story on DIY speakers?” “Are you even using your real name?”

Instead, the process is a vaguely educational and slightly condescending one, asking whether you can pick out which of two tweets is more engaging or more valuable to your followers. After that, you're encouraged to follow other verified Tweeters — which were, in my baffling case, Nicole Richie, Ellen DeGeneres, and Rihanna.

At the end of the process, you’re asked to associate a phone number with your newly-verified account, for easier contact in case of a security breach. In my case, a phone number was already associated, so no new personally-identifiable information was needed. And then you get a blue tick.

Twitter’s frequently asked questions page for verified accounts says that the company apparently does all of the grunt work for verifying, investigating users and reaching out to them when it feels the time is right:

Twitter proactively verifies accounts on an ongoing basis to make it easier for users to find who they’re looking for. We concentrate on highly sought users in music, acting, fashion, government, politics, religion, journalism, media, advertising, business, and other key interest areas. We verify business partners from time to time and individuals at high risk of impersonation.

As it stands, the coveted blue tick isn’t much of a badge of honour. It doesn’t really show that you are who you say you are on your profile, and Twitter certainly has no proof of that. The blue tick is more of a ‘Top Tweeter’ badge, showing that a complex algorithm on a server in San Francisco has determined that people might be interested in what you have to say — or not.

Twitter’s local presence has been growing at roughly the same rate as its verified account roll-out. The official @TwitterAU account was opened in October 2012, tweeting and retweeting news and stories relevant to Australian viewers and tweet-celebrating national occasions. The social media powerhouse is tipped to open an Australian corporate office “imminently”.

Update: Apparently choosing targets for the verification process is not so hands-off. Twitter collaborated on the latest round of blue ticks with Australian technology journalist and commentator Trevor Long, who curates a comprehensive list of Australian tech Twitterers.

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