Why paying for social media verification might not be all bad
Please hear me out.
Verification on social media has been a hot topic for the past few weeks thanks to all the buzz about Twitter’s recent approach to the subject so I will share a few thoughts that I had previously shared privately with a few friends.
Note that this article is not for or against Twitter Blue or any other implementation of user/business profile verification. It is purely an attempt to share my thoughts on alternative ways to think about what it means to be “verified”.
First, let us take a look at how some of the top social media platforms define what it means to be verified.
Looking at the information (accessed on Nov 22nd, 2022) provided by Facebook (FB verification details), Instagram (Instagram verification details ), Tiktok (Tiktok verification details), and of course Twitter ( Twitter Legacy verification details), tells us that verification is a way to enable users of their platforms to find public figures and brands’ profiles and also confirm that the high-profile accounts they are following are exactly who they say they are.
A quick look through the requirements for verification on these platforms will tell you that they all have two things in common. To be verified on these platforms, your profile needs to be
- Authentic: Your account represents a real person, business, or entity.
- Notable: Represent a well-known, often searched person, brand, or entity
This is all consistent with the understanding that most people have of what it means to be verified on social media.
Now let us look at the actual meaning of the word verification.
According to Google’s English Dictionary provided by Oxford languages, to “verify’’ is to “make sure or demonstrate that (something) is true, accurate, or justified.”
This is another way of saying to make sure that something is authentic. It makes no mention of the word “notability’’ as this is not part of the meaning of the word “verify”.
And herein lies the controversy.
In the world of social media, notability implies authenticity but authenticity does not imply notability.
For many, to have a verified account does not only mean that your account is authentic, it means that you are “notable” and therefore that you have more “clout” than most. This is why the verification check mark is coveted by many.
For me the question is not whether this should be the case or not, rather the questions are:
- Do I need to be “notable” to prove my authenticity on the internet?
- Are “notable” people and businesses the only ones who are susceptible to impersonation on the internet and are hence deserving of verification?
- What does it really mean to be “notable”? If I am well known in my community, how many internet news articles does it take to convince Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Tiktok that I am “notable”?
- While being “notable” may earn me a check mark against my name, does having a checkmark against my name mean that I am “notable”?
- Can I prove my authenticity without having to prove my notability?
- Do I need to prove my notability to prove my authenticity?
I do not have answers to these questions but I certainly do have a few thoughts.
For example, I am not sure that one has to be “notable” to be able to prove the authenticity of their profile on the internet if they so desire.
Why would I want to prove the authenticity of my profile on the internet if I am not “notable” you may ask?
Well, because anyone can be a victim of impersonation regardless of their level of notability. I have seen this happen many times. Some of these people were relatively “notable” in their communities, the only issue was that they did not have many internet news articles about them. For example, there was a pastor who is very well-known in his community for his charitable works. He just did not have a presence on social media and was not really covered in many news articles. Someone created an account using his name on social media and used this to fleece many members of his sizable congregation. Others were just everyday people who were just unlucky enough to have their personal and business accounts impersonated by scammers who used these fake accounts to defraud others. Many of these people were denied verification because they did not meet the notability requirements.
Looking at it from the perspective of social media platforms, verifying the authenticity of an internet account is not trivial. It is very operationally intensive as it requires actual humans to do the verification and checking. Given that most of the impersonation cases involve “notable” people and businesses, the easiest way to cut down the number of impersonations would be to only focus on proving the authenticity of “notable” people and businesses.
But what about the long tail of users who do not meet the notability criteria? Well, they should be left to fend for themselves. Right?
I am not so sure.
There should be a way for these users or businesses to prove their authenticity if they so desire.
So how would I prove my authenticity without being “notable”?
There is probably more than one way to do this, especially in this Web3 era with all the blockchain innovation, but let’s look at the most obvious one.
This one is not rocket science. Basic KYC (Know Your Customer) processes are becoming more common. Many if not all fintech platforms implement this in some form. You basically provide some information and upload an Identification document and all of this is verified by a combination of artificial intelligence, human intervention, and integration to local KYC service providers that bridge the last mile for verification of IDs for different countries and locales.
While these systems are relatively straightforward to implement, they come with some operational overhead and costs that will very quickly mount especially if you are a platform with millions or billions of users.
This is where the need/ability to make this a paid service comes in.
If the users who want to prove the authenticity of their business and personal accounts are willing to pay for it (and I believe many of them are), making this a paid service would be a way to not only to cover the cost of providing this service but could also enable the platform in question to turn a decent profit in the process.
This is why paying to be verified might not be such a bad idea after all.
But then where does this leave the “notable” folks i.e the folks with clout e.g. a popular author like Chimamanda Adichie or an iconic brand like Nike? I think there should still be a way to identify these people or businesses that differentiates them from accounts that are authentic (and not authentic and “notable”). LinkedIn seems to have done a decent job of this with their “Top Voice” and “Influencer” initiatives that enable users on their platform to recognize and follow truly “notable” individuals.
Now, should these “notable” and accomplished influencers have to pay to be recognized? That is another pertinent question that is beyond the scope of this particular write-up.
Also out of scope is whether social media platforms should bundle all sorts of other features alongside this verification service like Twitter is trying to do with Twitter Blue. If you get the verification piece right ( and the evidence suggests that Twitter is yet to do so), it is of course very tempting from a business perspective to leverage that in so many ways. Should you do that? How should you do that? That is definitely an interesting discussion especially given that some social media platforms want to stay out of the “identity validation” business while others want to get into it.
Regardless of which direction the top social media platforms take, the debate will continue given that when you run a platform that has more than 10M human beings on it, there is no perfect solution.
I only wanted to make the point that one does not need to prove that they are “notable” in order to prove their authenticity on social media and the platforms need to put in the work to make this possible. Doing this the right way will require investments that may need to be paid for.
Thank you for making it this far.
Here is a little something for the pain.