Social media verification: still a crapshoot

The opaque and unpredictable routes to verified status on social media, make it a desirable status symbol, and a distorting influence on social interactions

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

If you're a prominent person on social media, you get hassled to get people verified. Matt Navarra gets DMed about it all the time. Friend-of-the-blog and Twitter's director of curation Joanna Geary has a tweet about it in her pinned thread:

Why? Because verification has become a badge of prestige, and verification is a crapshoot:

There are two ways to get verified: know someone at the social media company or someone at the company knows you. Most badging is the result of exchanges between institutions with long-established relationships with the platform’s sales and/or partnerships teams. This means that various major talent agencies, record companies, sports leagues, high-dollar clients, and more have a direct connection to the process. Other verifications are the result of one-off meetings or private conversations with an employee at the company. If you were verified and have no idea why, it’s probably because someone inside the building likes you or you’re on their radar.

I first wrote about this years ago - and the system is still a total mess. As long as people get special features for verification — as well as the assumed status — this is going to remain a battleground. And it's just bizarre. I follow former students who get verified within weeks of getting an entry-level job on a national paper, and some of the great thinkers about online community and social media over the past two decade, who aren't.

Consolidation of power

The net effect of all this is to place gift of the badge of significance on a handful of companies. The implicit power of Facebook and Twitter to decide who is — and isn't — important here is only really shared by Wikipedia (whose editors only deemed Lyra McKee notable after she was killed, which seems  offensive to me).

And yes, people are still getting verified on Twitter despite the system being notionally suspended…

Although, if you're female, you might not want to covet verified status:

In receiving this unexpected aggression, anger, and attention, I’m not alone. Several women verified on Instagram told me similar stories — with their experiences ranging from annoying to creepy to scary. And yet, men in media who I spoke to about this phenomenon generally have positive feelings about Instagram since being verified. No, this isn’t representative of all men, but it’s been shown that women are twice as likely to face online harassment and the men I spoke to didn’t report, say, getting unsolicited dick pics at a higher rate.

I suspect that the most simple solution would be to provide a largely automated system for proving you are who you say you are — make it a genuine verification system rather than a status system. While that might lead to an initial rush of requests, once it became clear that verification was no longer a status symbol, it would die down pretty quickly.

I don't think that's going to happen — the networks enjoy the power to shape who is perceived as influential too much. Twitter, especially, has evolved from a conversational model to more of a broadcast facilitation one, and one could certainly argue that it would be ill-advised to change a tool that allows it to "reward" the most attention-generating of its users.

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.