This is the first post in a new series called Justin’s Journal, where founder Justin Russell talks about current online news and trends.
I do my best to take the long view with technology and avoid the online drama of the day. As exciting, shiny, and impactful as technology can be, most headlines fade pretty quickly.
But the current “battle of the badge” happening at Twitter is worth discussing. It’s part of a larger conversation about identity verification online.
A (very) brief history of verification
Way back in 2009, Twitter launched its verified accounts program. As Twitter grew, more people started to impersonate celebrities and public figures – to the point where it was difficult to tell when a tweet was legitimate. That wasn’t a great look for a relatively new company trying to gain credibility as the go-to spot for public conversation. Once an account was verified, it received a blue checkmark next to its name to indicate that it was an official account.
Verification on Twitter was relatively chaos-free until the recent overhaul of Twitter Blue, a monthly subscription that adds a set of premium features. As part of the changes, any account that paid for the premium service would receive the blue checkmark – without completing the verification process.
Users took advantage of this by signing up for official-looking account names and tweeting on behalf of companies, which, in the case of Eli Lilly, caused its stock to drop over 4% (and likely cost Twitter a lot in lost ad revenue).
An online challenge
You might have heard about the Eli Lilly story. But they’re far from the only ones impacted by the challenges of impersonation online.
Over on Instagram, young women constantly deal with fake accounts set up by scammers that use stolen photos. These scams aren’t limited to celebrities; even those who only post normal day-in-the-life photos can be targeted, too. These unauthorized accounts can wreak havoc on someone’s reputation _and_ their mental health.
And any small business that’s tried to take control of its online presence likely has a story of trying to wrangle unverified listings that can affect its search ranking or cause confusion for customers.
A manual process in an automated world
Why is this still such a widespread problem?
Here’s Twitter, in its verified accounts launch post 13 years ago:
“We hope to verify more accounts in the future but due to the resources required, verification will begin only with a small set.”
Verification – like content moderation – is time-intensive. The process involves collecting and inspecting documents from a user to prove that they’re legitimate, and many social networks and directories aren’t willing to invest the time and money to build teams to do the work.
In short, verification is a difficult challenge – and one that doesn’t play well with the business model of tech giants.
Tips for businesses
Impersonation will continue to be a challenge online, but there are a few steps you can take to help your customers.
- Put prominent links to your official social accounts on your company’s website. There’s no guarantee that people will check to see whether a tweet or post is legitimate, but this can help steer people in the right direction (and give you credibility if someone tries to impersonate you).
- Try to cull unverified listings, pages, or locations for your company. Most online platforms have tools to help with this, or you can work with a digital services company to save you some time.
- Reserve and attempt to verify your company’s name on major social networks – even if you aren’t active on them. Platforms often prioritize verified requests to remove an imposter account.
- Build your follower base. Your official account will look more reputable with 1,000 followers than 10 – and you’ll also build a base of people who will stand up on your behalf if something happens.
At the end of the day, your reputation with your customers will go a long way and foster connections that want you to succeed – and who will stand by your side when something unexpected happens.