Last week, Twitter opened a pandora’s box of free-speech and internal-policy issues by deciding to de-verify verified accounts they believe do not meet the company’s behavioral standards.
Twitter decided to review its verification policy after the social media platform granted Jason Kessler, the Unite the Right leader who organized the infamous Charlottesville, Va., white supremacist rally, a coveted blue checkmark.
— Alex Leo (@AlexMLeo) November 8, 2017
In response to the backlash over that decision, Twitter Co-Founder Jack Dorsey publicly admitted that in regards to Twitter’s verification process, “the system is broken and needs to be reconsidered.”
We should’ve communicated faster on this (yesterday): our agents have been following our verification policy correctly, but we realized some time ago the system is broken and needs to be reconsidered. And we failed by not doing anything about it. Working now to fix faster. https://t.co/wVbfYJntHj
— jack (@jack) November 9, 2017
Twitter decided the best course of action was to abruptly halt its verification process and announce that not only was it “working on a new authentication and verification program,” but it would also begin de-verifying accounts “whose behavior does not fall within these new guidelines.”
4 / We’re working on a new authentication and verification program. In the meantime, we are not accepting any public submissions for verification and have introduced new guidelines for the program. https://t.co/j6P0HGXIVq
— Twitter Support (@TwitterSupport) November 15, 2017
5 / We are conducting an initial review of verified accounts and will remove verification from accounts whose behavior does not fall within these new guidelines. We will continue to review and take action as we work towards a new program we are proud of.
— Twitter Support (@TwitterSupport) November 15, 2017
So far, Twitter has mostly been de-verifying conservative provocateurs, including Kessler and alt-right blogger Laura Loomer, who tweeted her belief that she was de-verified purely because she espoused conservative viewpoints on the platform.
Twitter just emailed me to tell me they are removing my “verified badge” because they claim my account “doesn’t comply with Twitter’s guidelines for verified accounts.”
Translation: I’m a conservative. pic.twitter.com/F1AsxWI6Fm
— Laura Loomer (@LauraLoomer) November 15, 2017
The company also banned noted alt-right troll “Baked Alaska” from using Twitter again.
All of this recent activity by Twitter has raised a few serious questions about verification, including:
1.) Has Twitter raised First Amendment concerns by policing its users’ speech?
2.) Is being Twitter-verified even “cool” or useful?
To begin dissecting those questions, MediaFile talked to a few Twitter-verified journalists about what the blue check mark has done for their careers, and whether they believe Twitter is abusing its power by de-verifying accounts it deems problematic.
“It’s definitely helped me appear more legitimate to sources and other journalists,” said David Oliver, an associate social media editor at U.S. News and World Report. “Personally, it’s something I wanted for a long time and I know my friends were excited for me because of that. Now I probably take it for granted.”
Sporting News contributor Sung Min Kim agreed with Oliver’s assessment.
“It’s got a lot of positive stigma associated with it,” he said. “I feel like the general perception is that, if you had the verification check mark, people see you to be more ‘established,’ which is not necessarily true, but that’s the impression they seem to get. That kind of first impression goes a long way.”
That concept may sound silly, but even a perception of legitimacy can be a godsend in a young journalist’s career.
Sarah Polus, a reporter with the Washington Post’s Reliable Sources blog, recalled recently reaching out to Yashar Ali — a freelance reporter who has broken many high-profile sexual harassment-related stories over the last few months — for information about the apology letter Kathy Griffin wrote to President Donald Trump. Ali “almost immediately” responded to her, which she believes was partially due to the aura of legitimacy created by her blue check mark.
“Obviously people are going to take me more seriously if I’m verified,” she said. “So they’re more likely to respond.”
Slash Film writer Hoai-Tran Bui said that her blue check mark has also helped her gain more Twitter followers, amplifying her voice.
“Your social media profile is your professional profile, so to speak, so the more attention you gain on it, the more credibility and influence you gain,” she said.
So it appears being Twitter verified still has its perks. But how do these folks feel about Twitter’s de-verification crusade?
“I personally think it’s good,” Kim said. “In my personal viewpoint, anything to delegitimize destructive people’s exposure to the public is a step to the right direction. I know there’s free speech et al, but Twitter isn’t necessarily the government. They have the choice to support what they feel is right and not right.”
Polus echoed that sentiment, saying that Twitter is a private company and has the authority to police its users as it pleases.
“You’re kind of at their mercy to let them do what they want,” she said.
Bui thinks the company’s “intentions are in the right place,” but is not convinced de-verifying hate-spewing accounts will solve a problem that is also closely associated with spambots and Twitter eggs.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction, but like a lot of Twitter’s attempts to address their issues with harassment, abuse and more, they’re not quite tackling the root of the problem,” she said.
MSNBC Digital Producer Geet Jeswani is skeptical of both Twitter’s intentions with this de-verification spree, and its long-term impact.
“There’s definitely been consensus that Twitter should do something about problematic accounts,” he said. “But right now, I can’t tell if this is just to get quick brownie points … or if there will be meaningful long-term changes to how Twitter handles these accounts.”
While the ultimate effects of Twitter playing God with its most high-profile users remain to be seen, it is pretty clear that Twitter VIPs both enjoy the benefits of their verified status and at least understand why the company has taken the steps it has to mitigate its troll problem.
The moral of this story: Play by Twitter’s rules, and they’ll leave you alone. Run afoul, and they might have to pull an Odin and take away your hammer: