You know who you are. At least we hope you do. But how does the world know that you are who you say you are? Since social media companies are bringing the world together they have been at the forefront of trying to verify that their users are who they say they are. It has led to a verification system that gives a user a badge that identifies them. Recent events like the leader of the Unite the Right movement Jason Kessler being verified (temporarily) on Twitter has led to an uproar and a search for a better system and Instagram may have figured that out.

Twitter’s verification

Twitter is the most prominent platform to have a verification badge. The verification system was meant to “authenticate identity and voice”, or basically say that you are who you say you are. A normal person would not be able to claim to be a celebrity or a politician and misrepresent them in front of a worldwide audience. You would know that you were talking to a real person and not a bot or spammer. The problem was that some in the public saw the verification system as a tacit indicator of importance and an endorsement of that person. Following the outcry of the Kessler situation Twitter paused verifying any accounts n November 2017.

Why be verified?

Being verified is more important than just having the public know you are who you say you are. Analytics that had been previously available to only advertisers were made available to accounts that were verified. Those accounts could now see how their tweets performed. They also got a tab that showed only their interactions with other verified accounts which allowed them to filter out some of the abusive responses that Twitter has become known for.

Being verified by Twitter was somewhat of a secretive process. At first there was no way to apply for it, Twitter had to contact you to start the process. So at first the badge was a way to show social status on the platform. Twitter trusted you after all! The process was simplified somewhat since allowing users to submit a request and if their criteria was met the account would be verified.

Verification tied to behavior?

The problems started for Twitter in 2016 when they removed the badge of oft-described right-wing troll Milo Yiannopoulos. The removal did not come because someone believed he was not who he claimed to be but because of his behavior. Essentially the badge then became a mark of approval from Twitter as well, or so the public began to see it as such and if someone said something bad and had the badge then Twitter must have approved of it. Pandora’s Box was opened. Twitter removed the badge of Kessler, along with other far-right figures like Richard Spencer in 2017 and after that basically suspended the program indefinitely citing confusion over its purpose. In today’s hyper-partisan atmosphere many viewed this as a partisan move on their part.

Being verified is not a bad thing. It is important for people to know that you are who you say you are. Sure if you are talking with friends they know you but a friend of a friend may not. How do they know that you are not a Russian bot? If you are verified that takes care of that.

Instagram’s new verification system

Instagram has changed its program of verifying its users to replace its old method. At the end of August anyone of the over 1 billion users is able to apply for the badge but certain criteria must be met: You have to be who you claim to be, you can only have one account and your account must be notable in some way. The last one is of course the hangup but Instagram defines this as an account that is likely to be impersonated or that the account represents a celebrity, public figure or brand. The user must also comply with the Terms of Service as well to be verified. So it may be easier for Donald Trump to get a verified badge (he did) than you or your business, at least to start.

Instagram is also unveiling other security updates. Security has been updated to use a third-party authentication app rather than sending a text message, which was proving to be easily hackable. The new Two-Factor Authentication is much more secure and is being adopted by other companies around the globe. Also a new About feature will show the date that the user joined Instagram, the country of the user, accounts with shared followers, username changes within the past year and ads running on the account. This should in theory make it easier to spot bot or spam accounts. These updates will be rolled in shortly.

Will this work?

Instagram and Twitter are two different platforms that do two different things. Twitter has fewer users (about 335 million) but has been more rampant with bad actors making the platform more rife for abuse. Could this system work on Twitter and other social media platforms? Yes it could. Could the same questions that Twitter faced need to be answered by Instagram? Does anyone know if Jason Kessler or Milo have an Instagram account? The answer to some of these questions could come very quickly if they do. Kessler does not appear to have one, Spencer did (it was removed and was apparently pretty benign) and Milo does (and he has been verified).

Twitter’s problem appeared to be two-fold. First they opened it up so that anyone could apply for the badge and made the criteria for getting one very easy (Jack Dorsey wanted everyone to be able to get one) rather than being selective about it as they originally were. While that had its own can of worms as one does question whether Twitter would have been fair in granting badges to those who are not ideologically in line with them but that is a question that is moot at this point. They opened it up to the unwashed masses and this was the result. Second they changed the scope of the system from just being who you say you are to removing them if you broke their rules. You could argue that they did not define it properly or clearly explain it at the beginning and if that is the case that is their fault but it appears that they changed the scope of the program as it suited them. No one as a kid liked it when the bigger kids changed the rules of the game when you started winning in the backyard and the reaction from the aggrieved users was predictable.

Milo is a provocateur and he says some outlandish things knowing it gets under his opponents skin. We’ve all been there and done that I bet. Kessler and Spencer both advocate for unpopular opinions, even among conservatives. Considering anyone right-of-center today is labeled as far-right or alt-right it would not take long for the mob to come down hard on the right, even for the much more moderates in the non-Kessler mold. Twitter should have just stuck with the badge being to prove that you were who you said you were and kept the content policing separate. We are witnessing a revolution in the world of social media. It is going from a wild west-esque situation and through the growing pains that come with any growth period. Hopefully this will lead to a much more civilized and open system where everyone treats each other with respect and is treated fairly themselves, both by other users and by the platform. That day may take awhile though.

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