Status symbol or identification badge? Why Twitter Blue Checkmarks Matter
Following Elon Musk’s October 27 acquisition of Twitter, the world’s richest man proposed a series of controversial changes to the platform. With mounting proofs that he invents as he goes along, these proposals are tweeted in a stream of consciousness way from Musk’s Twitter account.
Within a few days, paid verification changes has already been deployed in several countries, including Australia, as part of the Twitter Blue subscription service.
More than just verification
According to Twitter, the blue tick lets people know a interest account is genuine. Currently, there are seven categories of “public interest accounts”, such as government office accounts, news outlets and journalists, and influencers.
Yet this seemingly innocuous little blue icon is far from just a verification tool in Twitter’s fight against impersonation and fraud.
In the eyes of the public, verified status signifies social importance. It is a coveted status symbol to which users aspirelargely because Twitter’s approval process made it difficult to obtain.
There is a fundamental mismatch between what Twitter wants the blue check mark to mean and how the public perceives it, which Twitter’s own security team recognized in 2017.
But they didn’t solve it. When Twitter started routinely verifying accounts again in 2021, it didn’t take long for the process to start failing again, with blue checkmarks being handed over to bots and fake accounts.
Moreover, the public is still confused about the meaning of the blue tick and considers it as a status symbol.
lords and peasants
Musk’s stream of consciousness policy proposals may reflect his own preference for interacting with verified accounts. Despite his repeated complaintsms from “power to the people“and break the”lords and peasants“system of verified accounts versus unverified accounts, I performed a data analysis of 1,493 of Musk’s tweets in 2022 and found that more than half (57%) of his interactions were with accounts verified.
Obviously, having a verified status makes it worthy of its attention. So, Musk himself arguably considers the blue checkmark a status symbol, like everyone else (except Twitter).
However, Musk’s $8 blue tick proposal is not only flawed but, ironically, likely to produce even more inauthenticity and harm on the platform.
A fatal flaw stems from the fact that “payment verification” is not, in fact, verification.
act of fraud
While Twitter’s verification system is by no means perfect and far from transparent, it at least aspired to the kinds of verification practices journalists and researchers use to tell fact from fiction and authenticity. fraud. It takes time and effort. You can’t just buy it.
Despite its flaws, the verification process was largely successful in rooting out a significant amount of illegitimate activity on the platform and uncovering notable accounts in the public interest. In contrast, Musk’s payment verification only checks that a person has 8 USD.
Payment verification cannot guarantee that the system will not be exploited for social purposes. For example, we have already seen that conspiracy theory influencers such as “QAnon John” are in danger to legitimize themselves by buying a blue tick.
Open the floodgates to bots
The problem is even worse on a larger scale. It’s hard enough to detect and prevent bot and troll networks to poison the information landscape with misinformation and spam.
Now, for the low cost of US$800, foreign adversaries can launch a network of 100 verified bot accounts. The more you can pay, the more legitimacy you can buy in the public sphere.
To make matters worse, Musk publicly declared that verified accounts that pay $8 will enjoy higher visibility on the platform, while unverified accounts will be algorithmically removed.
He believes this will address hate speech and fake accounts by prioritizing verified accounts in search, replies, and mentions. On the contrary, it will have the opposite effect: those who have enough money will dominate the public sphere. Think Russian bots and cryptocurrency spammers.
Also consider that the ability to participate anonymously on social media has many positive benefits, including security for marginalized and at-risk groups.
Worse, connecting social media profiles to payment verification could cause real damage if someone’s account is compromised and the attacker learns their identity from their payment records.
A cascade of consequences
Musk’s ideas are already causing a series of unintended consequences on the platform. Accounts with blue ticks have started changing their profile ID to “Elon Musk” and their profile picture to parody it. In response, Musk tweeted a new policy proposal that Twitter manages by impersonating would be suspended unless it clarifies that it is a “travesty”.
Musk’s view of user verification does not match that of Twitter or the internet research community.
Although the existing system was flawed, it was at least systematic, somewhat transparent and with the pitfalls of accountability. It was also reviewable in the face of public criticism.
On the other hand, Musk’s political approach is tyrannical and opaque. Having abolished the board of directors“Chief Twit” has all the power and almost no responsibility.
We are left with a heartbreaking vision of a fragile and flawed online public square: in a world where everyone is verified, no one is verified.
Author: Timothy Graham, Associate Professor, Queensland University of Technology