Twitter Verification Is Getting Weird—Here's Why It's Going So Wrong

A checkmark doesn’t always mean what you think

  • Twitter is under fire after its verification process failed to stop a parody account from showing violent acts. 
  • CEO Elon Musk is charging for Twitter verification despite pushback. 
  • Some experts say the verification process can help weed out bad actors if adequately implemented. 

Twitter verification is meant to be a sign of authenticity and engender trust, but experts say the process can quickly go off the rails.

A parody Twitter account that resembled the branding of MTV's game show The Challenge was given a gold check mark after posting videos and images of violence. It's an example of the challenges that Twitter CEO Elon Musk faces as he tries to give the verification process a makeover. 

"Verification needs to be more stringent," digital marketing expert Joe Karasin told Lifewire in an email interview. "Google Ads requires a lot of documentation to prevent fraud and malware being promoted, and Instagram has a fairly strict set of guidelines for verification. As Twitter continues to evolve, expect the same type of policies to be adopted. Elon Musk will not want to see his $44 billion investment continue to lose money or become the cause of major problems."

Twitter Confusion

Man in his 30s with beard and glasses texting on mobile with pet cat on nearby counter

Getty Images / 10'000 Hours

MTV's game show The Challenge is so popular that it has a parody account on Twitter. Whoever owns the account paid the hefty $1,000 monthly fee to get Twitter's new gold verified check mark. But the account drew controversy when it posted violent video content before being suspended.

"Besides the obvious impersonation issues that come along with verifying the wrong account, the spread of misinformation is a key concern when there's a lack of thorough research into the users being verified," Kathleen Marchetti, the director of marketing at Next PR, said in an email. 

Musk, the new owner and CEO of Twitter, has sparked controversy and confusion with his decision to change how users can get verified on the platform. Verification, which used to be a free service that authenticated influential accounts with a blue check mark, is now a paid feature that anyone can access for $8 a month. 

If a government account were to lose its status, other bad actors could cause multiple issues.

Musk claimed that his move was aimed at democratizing verification and ending a system that favored some users over others. However, some prominent figures have refused to pay for Twitter verification, seeing it as a sign of submission to Musk or a loss of credibility. Some have even tried to get rid of the check mark after Twitter restored it to their accounts without their consent. Many users who have paid for verification have used it to troll, impersonate, or spread misinformation, taking advantage of the increased visibility and authority the check mark gives them. 

Experts say that Twitter has been inconsistent and unclear about its verification policies, giving away check marks to some accounts that did not ask for them or did not qualify for them, such as deceased celebrities or fake accounts.

Raising The Verification Stakes

The Challenge controversy raises the issue of whether Twitter verification is essential, Marchetti noted.

"Sure, it affords you more features (like a square avatar and exclusive access to contact premium support), but at what cost?" she added. "Besides the literal $1,000 a month cost for organizations, the once-coveted check mark has lost much of its original allure from Twitter days of yore."

But Karasin said that Twitter verification, much like any social media verification, is critical to prevent parody accounts. He pointed to an incident last year when an Eli Lilly parody account caused a stock crash

"If a government account were to lose its status, other bad actors could cause multiple issues," he added. "This is the problem with the paid verification system, as anyone that has $8 can easily attempt to pose as someone else on the platform."

One benefit of verification is that your tweets will show up in users' "For You" section of the feed, Marchetti said. For You is customized for users based on topic interest, other accounts they follow, posts they've engaged with, etc. The "Following" section of the feed is just that—accounts a user follows. 

"If you don't shell out the cash for verification, your tweets will only be seen by followers," Marchetti added. "Which feels sort of ironic, given the anti-censorship, freedom of speech rhetoric touted by its CEO."

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