Twitter’s solution to its verification problem is to verify everyone

“A checkmark for you, and you, and you…”
“A checkmark for you, and you, and you…”
Image: Reuters/Lucas Jackson
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Twitter’s coveted blue checkmarks might soon become widespread across the social network.

During a Periscope chat yesterday (March 8), Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey described the company’s verification process as “broken” and said it is reevaluating how it grants the status to users. His proposed solution: Make it open to everyone.

“The intention is to open verification to everyone,” Dorsey said. “And to do it in a way that is scalable [so] we’re not in the way and people can verify more facts about themselves, and we don’t have to be the judge and imply any bias on our part.”

During the same chat, Twitter’s director of product management, David Gasca, explained how the feature’s association as a status symbol has led some users to perceive the blue checkmark as a form of endorsement—which is not what it’s meant to signal.

“The main problem is we use it to mean identity, but because of the way it was originally started, where it was only given to certain very large public figures, celebrities etc., it came to have a lot of status associated with it as well,” he said. “In user research when you ask people ‘What do you think when you see the checkmark?’ they think of it as credibility… Twitter believes that this person is someone that what they’re saying is great and authentic, which is not at all what we mean by the checkmark.”

Neither Dorsey nor Gasca shared specifics on what making Twitter verification open to everyone might require, or when the expected changes would take place. Twitter did not respond immediately to Quartz’s questions on details.

Twitter’s “broken” verification feature marks one example of how social media companies are wrestling with users growing wary of how social networks enable the spread of fake news, hate speech, and echo chambers. Specifically, Twitter must find a way to signal how certain accounts belong to real people, without implying that what the person shares is credible. All the while, it has to demonstrate its commitment to upholding free speech, while also limiting hate speech.

In the past, verification on Twitter was granted manually by the company, and somewhat subjectively. Users received the status so long as their accounts were considered of “public interest.” Most Twitter users with the badge are public figures of some sort—politicians, celebrities, athletes, and journalists. But the specific standards Twitter uses to vet applicants for the status remains vague. Last November, Twitter granted verification to the organizers of a white-supremacist rally that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia. User backlash led the company to suspend granting verifications that month.