Twitter to revive controversial account verification system

Kurt Wagner

Twitter Inc. will bring back its system for verifying user identities next year, and is asking people to provide feedback on what the requirements should be for the coveted blue check mark.

The San Francisco-based company will start letting people request verification in early 2021. It published a draft document on Tuesday outlining a preliminary set of requirements. Accounts must be active, notable and “associated with a prominently recognized individual or brand.”

Twitter also highlighted six types of account that will qualify, but suggested others may come later:

Twitter said users can give the company feedback on the criteria for two weeks, then it plans to publish a final policy Dec. 17.

Twitter has used a blue check mark to verify the identity of well-known and popular Twitter users for years – a way to distinguish real users and corporate accounts from potential impersonators. But the verification program has been confusing, and the company has offered little clarity around the criteria. It previously allowed users to request verification, but halted the program in 2017, with Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey calling the process “broken.”

“We haven’t been clear about who can become verified and when, why an account might be unverified, or what it means to be verified,” the company wrote in a blog post on Tuesday.

As part of the revamped verification process, Twitter said it may remove verification if a user’s account is dormant, or if it repeatedly breaks the company’s rules. Twitter recently confirmed that it will soon stop the special treatment U.S. President Donald Trump receives for his personal Twitter account. While he often violates Twitter’s rules, his tweets are considered newsworthy and thus he does not receive the same punishment other users might. This will end when he leaves office in January.

Read more: Trump’s Special Twitter Treatment Would End With Biden Win

The verification process on Twitter has posed problems for the company in the past. Twitter, unlike Facebook Inc., does not require people to use their real identity on the service, so verification badges are an important tool for ensuring people can quickly tell if they are hearing from a real politician or corporate leader, for example.

But verification was also exclusive, and just a small group of Twitter’s overall user base is verified. Over time the blue check mark came to represent a kind of implicit endorsement from the company. Twitter was criticized shortly before shutting the program down in 2017 for verifying known white supremacists, which users took as a validation of those users’ beliefs.

“Verification was meant to authenticate identity & voice but it is interpreted as an endorsement or an indicator of importance. We recognize that we have created this confusion and need to resolve it,” Twitter said at the time.

The company is considering other types of changes that might help users quickly identify an account’s owner. Dorsey, for example, suggested at a recent Senate hearing that the company should start labeling bots on the service, an idea he’s floated publicly for years.