@oprah was one of the first Twitter accounts to boast a blue "verified" check, a useful indication that Ms. Winfrey's account did, indeed, represent her. But that onetime sign of Twitter Illuminati status had become "meaningless" as of last year according to the Atlantic, devalued by a vague and arbitrary verification process. So now, maybe in a bid to give verified checks new meaning or value — at least to the company itself — Twitter is extending applications for verified accounts to the masses. Anyone can apply by offering some identifying information, and accounts "of public interest" will be approved. For the record, anyone with a Twitter clearly believes their tweets to be of public interest — otherwise they would just text them to someone or write them down in a notebook.
"We want to make it even easier for people to find creators and influencers on Twitter so it makes sense for us to let people apply for verification," Tina Bhatnagar, Twitter's vice president of User Services, said according to a press release. "We hope opening up this application process results in more people finding great, high-quality accounts to follow, and for these creators and influencers to connect with a broader audience."
According to the new request page for verifications, Twitter stands to gain some personal information from users via their applications. That is, to be verified, account users are asked to submit a verified phone number, a confirmed email address, a bio, a profile photo, a birthday ("for accounts that are not company, brand, or organization accounts"), and a website.
In past years, some Twitter figures, especially those spewing hateful rhetoric, have had their existing verification removed. Milo Yiannopoulos, for example, a Breitbart editor and far right internet troll monster, was de-verified in light of his behavior on the platform, which Fusion discusses here. Giving users something that Twitter might then take away from them, as the company did with Yiannopoulos, might incentivize better behavior. You know, maybe! In the long term, creating a broader universe of verified accounts could also encourage better behavior, as less anonymity and more accountability typically tend to do on the net.
Speaking of Yiannopoulos, yesterday he encouraged users to attack Ghostbusters actor and stand up comedian Leslie Jones, @lesdoggg, with racist and sexist tweets. The results, which our sister site LAist covered here, were horrifying and saddening.
I leave Twitter tonight with tears and a very sad heart.All this cause I did a movie.You can hate the movie but the shit I got today...wrong— Leslie Jones (@Lesdoggg) July 19, 2016
“This type of abusive behavior is not permitted on Twitter," a Twitter spokesperson told BuzzFeed, "and we’ve taken action on many of the accounts reported to us by both Leslie and others. We rely on people to report this type of behavior to us but we are continuing to invest heavily in improving our tools and enforcement systems to prevent this kind of abuse. We realize we still have a lot of work in front of us before Twitter is where it should be on how we handle these issues.”
While it isn't clear exactly how a formalized verification process open to all would promote a better handling of such issues, the timing is such that I speculate Twitter sees verification and harassment as related. Let's hope they are, and that that this helps somehow.