On Twitter’s “verified” status

Nero had his verified status revoked. I only know of one other instance where this has happened, and that instance was entirely appropriate. A few years ago, when I asked Colin Crowell, VP of Public Policy at Twitter,  point blank about the purpose of the verified checkmark, he assured me it was *only* to prevent impersonation. It seems this is no longer the case.

First, apparently if you have a verified user checkmark, you have access to a set of features like analytics that “regular” users do not. Second, there have been numerous statements by Silicon Valley brahmin that twitter eventually plans to market the verified status– aka, if you pay money, you can get it. And most recently, Nero’s status was revoked for reasons completely unrelated to being verified.

To me, “verified” is similar to trusting a public key: it quite literally means that Twitter has verified that the posts on the Twitter account are in fact either from or representative of the name on the account. This way you can rest assured that the “Tom Cruise” you see on Twitter is in fact the movie star, and not a random unrelated individual. This is a way to mitigate issues like cybersquatting, and seems reasonably effective.

The challenge is twofold: first, Twitter has been notoriously opaque about what the guidelines for granting this status is; second, especially recently, the status has morphed from an impersonation defense to a sort of advocacy or endorsement of the person. Given that Twitter has started “cracking down” on things one might consider free speech, as well as making dubious moves regarding sponsored tweets, likes, and the moments menu, it’s not unreasonable to conclude that they are pushing the same stupidity towards the verified checkmark.

The reason I’m concerned is not because I advocate actions that some people might make: it does appear that Nero was doing some pretty awful things. I’m concerned because the logic does not match. The only other instance I know of re: verified accounts was the Argentinian prime minister, who had her status revoked because she refused to give up her twitter account after leaving office. Since she no longer held the capacity of the office, it makes sense that she would no longer be verified to that office. But there is no conclusion that Nero has ceased to be Nero, but that removing status is an admonishment of unrelated behavior. My conclusion is thus that, like the populist idea that the blue checkmark holds a status/class symbol, twitter has begun to embody that idea and, based on their past idiocy, will only make the service suffer because of it.