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Does Twitter verification still mean anything?

twitter verified headerOh Twitter verification, you elusive little minx, you! Since 2009, that coveted blue check mark has served as a crown identifying royalty among mere peons: rock stars, CEOs, athletes, and celebrities of every shade.

Twitter originally coined the badge to help you tell the real deal from fan or satirical accounts – a seal of authenticity. It means you’re getting the real thing. By extension, it also means that anyone who carries it has enough of a popular following to warrant impostors – a benchmark of popularity in itself.

But the system of doling out these check marks is being called into question for a myriad of reasons, including the questionable tactic of verifying handles paying advertising dollars, accounts with identities that don’t seem worth protecting, and perhaps simply the fact that being verified doesn’t seem as cool as it used to be. Have the glory days of Twitter recognition come and gone so quickly?

Losing faith in an inconsistent system

How does Twitter go about deciding who passes muster? As Twitter has always explained: “We don’t accept verification requests from the general public, but we encourage you to continue using Twitter in a meaningful way, and you may be verified in the future. Please note that follower count is not a factor in determining whether an account meets our criteria for verification.” Clearly there is no set-in-stone method for verification, just as there are no hard requirements to attain the badge. 

Tales of Twitter granting verification range wildly. Comedian Jon Friedman (@friedmanjon) tells me he was randomly – and without notice from Twitter – verified four years ago when his book was coming out. “I was promoting the book on TV and in print … and amongst all of that my account was verified one day,” he says. “I assumed it had to do with that and that my account isn’t my actual name, someone else had already claimed ‘jonfriedman.’”

Friedman says being listed in Twitter’s own humor section and included on a few “funniest accounts to follow” lists likely helped him get verified, but he never heard a word from Twitter.

Former TechCrunch writer, ReadWriteWeb editor in chief, and current CEO and founder of Little Bird Marshall Kickpatrick also shared his experience of getting verified – and it’s a very different sounding process than what Friedman went through. In summer 2012, Kirkpatrick saw this notice, alerting him that he could get verified.

alert twitter verification
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Kirkpatrick then received a prompt from Twitter saying he was just steps away from getting his verification. After completing the process, he was set. Anil Dash also documented how he became verified. The only consistent thing in these separates instances is how inconsistent they are; Digital Trends’ own Verified badge came when we started advertising with Twitter, disappeared when we stopped, and reappeared when we shined a light on this payola scheme. (And yes, I’m sure I just wrote the death sentence for my own never-to-be Verified badge). On the flip side, of course, there are the tales of how Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey’s own parents couldn’t get Twitter verified

What we get in return when we ask questions is something of a “because we said so.”

While Twitter’s tune has more or less never changed regarding verification (in that the platform has always maintained it will tell us next to nothing about how the the system works), it’s been able to make the badge mean something based on our trust in the system, some good faith, and the always-dependable human need for validation. But it appears that these constants might be waning. 

Questioning the verified

The first threat to the Verified badge may be the fact that so many apparent undeservings have it. Here’s a running list of all the Twitter users who have been verified. Yes, there are many, many accounts in here that make perfect sense: There are politicians, reporters, celebrities, developments, CEOs, and athletes. It takes a great many scrolls just to get through all of the AP reporters.

unpopular verified accountsHowever there are also a confusing amount of Twitter accounts with the badge that … well, don’t quite make sense. Buzzfeed compiled a list of the least popular verified accounts – some of which had a mere odd hundred followers. While Twitter insists that follower count doesn’t play into verification, it certainly seems to be an overriding quality many badge holders share. 

Yes, it makes sense that some of the “unpopular” Verified accounts would need the badge – for instance, Governor Chris Christie and the AP Archive. Even if they don’t have many followers, they probably will at some point, and are important sources that demand authenticity. However an upcoming Starz Channel show and a Philadelphia police officer with Verified badges raise the questions: what does verification mean, who needs it, and how do they get it? All questions that have largely gone unanswered by Twitter. What we get in return when we asked these things is something of a “because we said so.”

Faking it

Skepticism isn’t the only thing hurting any sway the Verified badge originally held – there’s also the fact that you can fake your way to verification fairly easily.

There’s the cut-and-paste method: You can take advantage of the relatively new Twitter cover photo feature and include the little checkmark on yours. It takes the tiniest amount of photo editing knowledge. Of course something might look slightly amiss and hovering over the check mark (the real one) will pop up a “Verified Account” notice. No pop up? Not an actual verified account. But it’s still some easy, quick trickery that hurts the legitimacy of the badge altogether and could help you fool your way into short-lived Twitter notoriety.

twitter faking badge
Image used with permission by copyright holder

faked verificationOf course, it could also get you suspended (I quickly got rid of my newly verified background). Per Twitter

“Misuse of Twitter Badges: You may not use a Verified Account badge or Promoted Products badge unless it is provided by Twitter. Accounts using these badges as part of profile photos, header photos, background images, or in a way that falsely implies affiliation with Twitter will be suspended.”

This isn’t the only option, however. You could also bot your way to hundreds of thousands of followers and see if Twitter will throw you a badge thanks to a hefty follower count. Buying or botting your way to followers is so ridiculously simple I’m not even going to dive in to details here (we’ve done that plenty). If that isn’t enough of a sure thing for you, you could try and buy a verified account from someone who has the badge. The buying and selling of accounts is against Twitter’s terms of service, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it under the table. There are a handful of sites where users have had their handles priced, and you can browse for one with the badge that you can then take over and make your own.

There are also alternatives to the badge. MiiCard started its own Twitter verification system last year in response to the growing concern around fake Twitter accounts (and some verification slip ups on Twitter’s part, notably concerning Dave Chappelle and Wendi Deng). The function is obviously not recognized by Twitter, and it’s a little-known alternative, but it’s just evidence of a growing movement to question the holiness of the native badge.

Thanks, Twitter … but no thanks

Perhaps most damning to Twitter verification could be the fact that we’re starting not to care.

There’s an almost more intoxicating reward for turning down the Verified badge: The fact that you’re a total badass.

It might sound unbelievable, but there are those among us who have actually turned down Twitter verification. I know, I know – it sounds absolutely crazy. While I’d like to say that were I to get that email from Twitter saying I was the new, proud owner of my very own blue check mark, I would have the strength to say, “No thanks, Twitter. Based on my strict and very real principles, I shall decline,” … I don’t know that I could.

Or that I should. Becoming Twitter Verified can help you find sources or job opportunities. It can get you free stuff. It means customer service reps on Twitter will take you oh-s0-seriously. Make fun of social networking prestige all you want (who doesn’t love doing that?), the verification badge comes with perks in tow.

But there’s an almost more intoxicating reward that comes with turning down the Verified badge: The fact that you’re a total badass. Yes, seriously, even in the retweeting, sheep-like, hive mindset that is part of the Twitter elite, the same rules of high school apply:

There were the cool kids, who knew they were cool, and enjoyed being cool.

There were also the kids who wanted to be cool so, so badly. They exist too; all you need to do is search for @Verified mentions to see everyone begging the Twitter gods to kindly bestow upon them the badge that will get them into the club. They were arguably the least cool … think Shoshanna from Girls but without any endearing naivete or optimism – just desperate, ruthless devotion to being popular and the rewards that come with said status.

Then there were the cool kids who couldn’t be compelled to care that they were cool. And they were all the cooler for their ambivalence. 

(And then there were the rest of us … but that part isn’t important.)

The Awl reported that recently, a rash of writers from Buzzfeed and The Verge all received verification en masse. However, while the checkmarks were being doled out, some of the writers decided they didn’t want the honor. “I didn’t want to lose my street cred with the Twitter riff raff,” one such writer, Katie Notopolous, told The Awl. “I imagine verification would be like trying to go back to the local watering hole on winter furlough from Harvard in the miner’s town and everyone sneerily calling you ‘college boy.’”

It’s a natural cycle; Twitter created this thing that gave users some cred, prestige, and authority, and then they let it get away from them. It’s obviously in Twitter’s best interests to very selectively let people into the verified club, but in the meantime, as the site’s user base continues to skyrocket, things will slip through the cracks and the whole purpose of the badge gets called into question. Twitter was able to elevate the simple white and blue check mark to incredible levels; it had us clamoring for the simple add-on – but those days may be numbered. It’s been used and abused too many times, and in the process lost some of its magical allure. The Verified badge will continue on, and there will be plenty of people who beg and plead for it, but it’s slowly losing its grip over many of us – and you know what they say: It isn’t hate that can kill something – it’s apathy. 

It’s like those nightclubs that movies and TV told us we should want to go to. There were elevated to this status of exclusivity, and the blocks-long lines and bouncers and blacked out windows only made us want to know what was inside even more. So we went ahead and got in those lines – but while we were waiting, we got bored and frustrated, people starting cutting, and we forgot why we wanted in so badly. And of course, we saw people walking out … and suddenly getting in didn’t seem so cool or important anymore. Turns out the bar around the corner was more fun the whole time. 

Editors' Recommendations

Molly McHugh
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Before coming to Digital Trends, Molly worked as a freelance writer, occasional photographer, and general technical lackey…
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