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How Will the Twitter Verification Saga End?

Is Elon Musk about to change the very nature of Twitter’s blue check forever? And wait a minute, what does it actually mean to be verified, anyway? Let’s predict the future and settle this.

By Monday, Nov. 7, Twitter may still exist — but it also may not look much at all like the thing we’ve gotten a liiiiittle bit too addicted to over the past decade or so in this here digital media game.

The funny little bird app’s Elon Musk era has been at times a comedy of errors and at other times a dense morass of ideology and at other times a concerning, teeth-gnashing vanguard for unfiltered, unmoderated 4chan-level chaos.

Suffice to say it was time for Boardroom to make sense of what on earth is going on here and game out how this whole blue check brouhaha could possibly resolve itself, so we convened our first-ever Tech Roundtable — Ian Stonebrook, Russell Steinberg, Anthony Puccio, Michelai Graham, and Sam Dunn — to satisfy three big queries:

  1. What should be the purpose of Twitter verification?
  2. Would you be willing to pay out of pocket each month to receive or keep a blue checkmark? If so, how much?
  3. Make a fearless prediction about how the ongoing Twitter verification saga will play out.

Let’s have some verifiable fun.

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What should be the purpose of Twitter verification?

MICHELAI GRAHAM (@OhMichGee): The purpose of verification should be to signal accounts belong to real people, companies, initiatives, and organizations. As for verified individuals, they ought to be public figures, media, content creators, etc. Information sharing is serious business these days, and all people, especially those with a blue check, should be held accountable for what they are putting out into the world online.

RUSSELL STEINBERG (@Russ_Steinberg): As someone who became verified because he was being impersonated, I think Twitter verification should confirm that the person in question is, in fact, who they say they are. I’d be fine with Twitter opening the verification process to everyone, provided they were able to prove their identity and use their real name on the site.

IAN STONEBROOK (@IanStonebrook): Twitter verification should be a means of online accountability and public safety, but since people started spreading life advice under the unclaimed images of Frank Ocean and Will Smith, it shifted the paradigm. Since then, it’s become a status symbol once meant to confirm celebrity now used to affirm or acquire it.

From a branding and psychological perspective, I’m not sure there’s any going back, but hey, if we can have multiple sponsor patches or conference callouts on a basketball jersey, maybe Twitter can have several more specific types of badges to tell users who’s who?

ANTHONY PUCCIO (@APOOCH): The check used to be a badge of honor, a representation that, yes, I was finally a reporter with credibility among the masses. With so much misinformation floating around, a checkmark should validate those who are THE person who cannot be imitated. If reporters and other figures directly accountable to the public no longer have that checkmark, how many more people will fall for all the fake Woj and Shams accounts, for example? And that’s keeping it light, by the way.

There needs to be something to indicate this person is real and this person is legitimate with their news. That’s the purpose, and that’s what it used to mean anyway.

SAM DUNN (@RealFakeSamDunn): It’s incredibly simple — if I say I’m a giant half-chicken, half-squirrel, it’s probably a good idea to provide basic corroborating data to Twitter such that it can confirm I am indeed a giant half-chicken, half-squirrel and not a giant half-chicken, half-squirrel parody account or a giant half-chicken, half-squirrel bot account. Especially if I had a gigantic following as self-described giant half-chicken, half-squirrel, there’s real utility in making it clearer than clear to the public that I am an authentic giant half-chicken, half-squirrel and that no deception is afoot, particularly given how effortlessly misinformation snowballs on social media platforms regardless of attempts at content moderation.

What verification was not meant to be was the catalyst for a social media caste system, which is what it ended up becoming post-haste. So, though Elon Musk appears to have precious little idea what he’s doing at Twitter’s helm and he’s setting himself and his new company up for almost certain disaster, it’s not like the current Twitter verification process wasn’t in need of some reform.

Would you pay to get or keep a blue checkmark? How much?

RS: No.

AP: Uhhhhh. I worked hard for that check. Blogged while working in warehouses and delivering pizza. It used to mean something to me — not clout-related or anything like that, but just a sign that I was a legitimate presence in the industry. Now? I see people with zero credibility getting them. It means jack shit to me. I like seeing when other verified folks interact with me in the separate notification bar (OoOoO), but otherwise, it doesn’t carry the value it once did.

So, no, I don’t think I would pay for one, and shame on Elon Musk for charging the people who create credible content on his platform. It’s already a dangerous and hostile place, I can’t imagine what it’ll look like in six months when more bullshit news floats around from @JohnsonTheBodegaKing… and people believe it.

SD: No, Neon Elon has it all twisted — you gotta pay me.

IS: As someone who’s had a blue check for about two weeks, as an author, I’d be willing to pay. I haven’t been feeling Elon Musk’s moves since acquiring Twitter, but I’d also feel no ways if I didn’t have one so the attachment or stakes aren’t that high.

Perhaps I’d even feel more at one with nature and not my smartphone if I didn’t have Twitter; still, if the blue check helps promote or validate the work of myself and my colleagues to greater fanfare or readership? For me, that’s absolutely worth spending the price of one Subway sandwich a month on.

Conversely, if the new ownership makes it even more of a cesspool for hate speak or any other negative attention pattern-forming behavior – the latter I think we’re all able to fall into — I’m good to dip, bring back Nokia, and play Snake instead.

MG: Absolutely not. If a blue check is something anyone can buy, it defeats purpose of having one at all and opens the floodgates to any and everyone. To me, blue checks belong to individuals and entities who have a greater responsibility than simply banter or drive-by entertainment when content-sharing. It’s also a way to give everyday consumers comfort in knowing individuals with blue checks are held accountable and consistently reviewed.

Give your best prediction of how the verification saga plays out.

AP: I think Elon’s bluffing. I don’t think he actually charges anyone for the blue check. I think it turns into another one of his weird Twitter experiments. Maybe some get theirs revoked — at least in the short term — but it seems counterproductive doing wrong by those who create and drive content on his platform for free.

SD: The “free” blue checks disappear on Nov. 7, and Election Day on Nov. 8 becomes an unprecedented misinformation/disinformation disaster.

Twitter Blue and its pay model feels like a trendy fad for several weeks before it dawns on the majority of us that the blue check has been made meaningless. In the months that follow, Twitter will develop a way to verify different types of accounts using different types of free badges — one for government officials and candidates for elected office, a different one for journalists and content creators, a different one for “public figures” (celebrities, entertainment and sports figures, business leaders…), and a separate Twitter Blue-as-such designation that anyone under the sun can pay for.

Season 4 of Succession is revealed to be a satire of this whole story and Joel Edgerton plays Elon.

MG: I think this verification paywall structure will fall apart. Twitter is led by the people, and above all, I believe public perception will prevail in this battle.

RS: Everyone gets verified and changes their display name to President Biden, then uploads his face as their profile pic, and I slowly lose my grip on reality.

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