When Twitter introduced its verification program, it was simply to provide confidence in communication and authenticate the identities of notable, oft impersonated public figures. By 2018, the ever elusive verification checkmark became an elitist club who were guaranteed priority placement in news feeds, “Who to follow” suggestions and hashtag searches.
And now, Twitter have gifted those baring the blue badge of honor an even greater privilege- advertising to the casual user by inserting their posts into the newsfeeds of users who don’t follow them to encourage expanse of influence to those who already have it.
I started seeing random people showing up in my timeline a few weeks ago; Names I didn’t recognize who had posted benign statuses that were entirely irrelevant to me or my interests. These posts contained a small header informing me that someone I follow also follows this individual implying that I should too. I imagine it was about this time that people branded with the verified check mark saw a significant spike in followers as well, purely for having had the benefit of this free advertising.
Celebrities of any measure, some not really being celebrities at all, but perhaps some guy who wrote an article published in the Huffington Post in 2010, are dominating Twitter, influencing trending topics and controlling the overall algorithm as Twitter favors these accounts for no other reason than they have, when it was possible, verified their identity or had it done, by twitter on their behalf when deemed a person of public interest.
Even in a search for the simple common name “Frank” the first suggestion in the results are all those who have been knighted by twitter as relevant, essentially presuming you, the searcher, must mean one of these Franks.
Hashtags now work the same way. In searching for a simple, innocuous hashtag such as the word “Holiday,” the user will find random people placed strategically in the “Who to Follow” suggestion box. I don’t know why such a search is encouraging me to follow someone named Tamika Harris, T.I or, That Boy Jrue as I have no idea who any of them are. I might understand if they were travel agents looking to book me a cruise at a competitive discount, alas, this is not the case.
Awkwardly, Twitter’s verified function provides only verified accounts as first returns to this query. In this case, a porn star who has a bit of a hashtag fetish and uses them quite liberally. At least the Travel Channel made a little more sense in context. Credit where credit is due.
Twitter’s discovery features, which is intended to expose the user to interesting or engaging accounts on topics of interest is certainly failing in every aspect. Again, I’m frequently asked to follow strangers upon logging in, but only those who have the blue tick next to their name and they’re never anyone I’m remotely interested in. Twitter doesn’t care. “Look at this person!”
The recent move to curate content that serves only one community- those of the Blue Tick Cult- has made it more of a distraction than an asset to the platform. As users became aware of the favoritism expressed toward those with verified accounts, naturally, every day plebeians started clamoring for it themselves, inundating the gatekeeper, an account called @ Verified, with hundreds of thousands of requests from around the globe pleading for the virtual gift.
The blue tick is no longer a symbol of authenticity, but one of status and privilege instead. Now, they’re influencers who are put on the front page of “Moments” and are suggested immediately to new users signing up who need a few friends to follow. Twitter places these knighted users in proverbial bold print at the center of attention while the rest of the struggle to sift through them to find their friend, Frank.
It’s important to note that not every individual of interest is brandishing a checkmark while some, with a few hundred followers and an IMDB page boasting their role as an extra in Gossip Girl are. The process of verification seemed selective, at best, and the chances of being verified depended more on whether the overseer woke up on the right side of the bed and had a hearty breakfast than if the user making the request was actually qualified.
In 2017, Twitter decided to give the blue tick treatment to notorious white supremacist and alt-right leader, Richard Spencer. Suddenly, the new age Nazi was finding his posts in the spotlight, taking up prime real estate in searches and placed in the coveted position of “Who to Follow” along the sidebar. They gave the same treatment to White Nationalist Jason Kessler who bragged about it to his bigoted fans.
The backlash was swift, justifiably. The users of Twitter, along with the media, took twitter to task for their flawed judgement- a consequence of their good day/bad day decisions on who to let sit at their table of elites. Their golden reputation had been forever marred, and commoners were even more incensed by the gesture than ever before.
In response, a year ago now, Twitter began un-verifying these accounts, which often promoted violence and hate speech toward minorities and then they shut down their verification program all together with this statement:
Of course it is an indicator of importance, as Twitter’s very own design and function indelibly made it so. They alone are responsible for what they allowed the blue check mark to imply, and how accounts wielding it are thrust into our feeds and sidebars like apostles of the Lord Christ himself. That they insinuate otherwise is practically offensive in its own right. The throngs of people desperately begging for it like Jr. High Students in gym class hoping to be picked for the champion dodge ball team prove it. They have fashioned their verification marker as a symbol of elevated status in Twitter hierarchy whether they’ll admit it or not. They continue to curate our content and ceaselessly promote verified accounts- not by interest, but implied significance above all others. Who wouldn’t want those benefits or expedited acquisition of followers? Who wouldn’t want their daily 280 character musings situated where the rest of us see them first whether we ant to or not? That’s why pursuit of a verification icon became a universal pursuit. Not only did it legitimize the user, but ushered them into Twitter’s own VIP area of the web.
And when they started verifying the wrong people? They closed it down indefinitely. It is remains inactive, according to a Twitter spokesperson. However, Twitter administrators are still verifying people discreetly if they’ve seen them on American Idol or in a Viral video on YouTube, but they have completely closed the door on the general public. If they don’t know your name, you’re not getting verified, regardless of your notability or achievements in the greater world. Twitter has, in effect, become its own world.
It’s a world where blue badgers tweet at us but rarely interact. They accrue thousands of followers a day on the basis of their status alone, not because they’re interested, but their presumed legitimacy instead. “They have a blue badge, they must be relevant.” mentality has hijacked the ability to have open, productive dialogues. Younger users post in their profiles how many verified accounts follow them as if they’re collecting Pokemon. Most blue badgers tweet, but rarely engage. They’re figureheads. Royalty. There in theory, not in practice. They talk at their followers, not to them. We’ve come to accept this as a form of in-crowd behavior in which those with refuse to acknowledge those without the varsity letter.
In March, CEO Jack Dorsey claimed to be revamping their verification system stating they were intending to verify everyone upon it’s return. Maybe they intend to level the playing field and develop a more equal form of micro communication wherein non-verified users aren’t relegated to the shadows of the site, struggling to gain a few followers. That never happened.
In fact, now they they’re injecting verified accounts into our timelines whether we follow them or not demonstrates the exact opposite.
One must consider Twitter’s system broken, beyond repair and in need of a dramatic overhaul if we’re ever to see the platform return to an organic format in which users are awarded based on the quality of content and not their perceived level of celebrity to the employee sitting at the switch.
Otherwise, it’s just another site where a few selected people are granted an expanded audience while the rest of us tweet to ourselves.