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With every element of Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter under constant scrutiny, there has been no shortage of headlines involving the social media giant in recent months. Twitter has had a tumultuous few months under his new ownership; there have been layoffs (and rehires); changes to the user experience; and, of course, there’s Twitter’s ongoing effort to fix and monetize its user verification system.
Upon its initial launch in November, Twitter Blue, initially billed as a revenue-generating scheme for the social media platform, quickly took a turn for the worse, implicating everyone from LeBron James to Lockheed Martin. Pranksters on Twitter jumped at the opportunity to pay $8 for verification and immediately began impersonating public figures and brands, tweeting lewd and garish messages that ended up costing companies billions.
Since then, the company has redesigned its Twitter Blue system, creating new verification badges designed to protect businesses and the government from impostors, and a labeling system that reveals what type of verification a user has. There is a waiting period for new accounts that want to sign up for Twitter Blue, as well as a cell phone number requirement. It’s enough to stop the rapid fraud frenzy the company faced in November, but still not enough to stop a determined impostor.
Blue check mark does not always equal verified
Twitter’s difficulties with user verification demonstrate just how vulnerable the online world is to fraud. If a few boring people can crash the stock market with just a phone number and an email address, imagine what a few organized crooks could do. It’s not a risk that Twitter, or the economy, can afford to take.
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The pay-to-play verification issue is almost a self-created trap for social media companies, whose blue checkmarks may be the most effective digital literacy tool to be developed in the last decade.
After years of conditioning, web users assume that the blue check comes with a degree of verification behind it, even if the steps behind that verification are somewhat confusing. Under Twitter’s former leadership, the blue check mark was even more than a verification; it was validation, and the loss of the blue check was a punishment often doled out to extremists and people deemed to have violated Twitter policies.
If Musk and Twitter want to reimagine the world of social media verification, they need to do so by starting with a rethink of the verification process and changing their understanding of what Twitter Blue is and can be. Verification is not simply a status that you pay for, but a status that users pay to try.
Sacrificing security for experience
According to the latest Twitter Blue update, Twitter is treating the verification process as a transaction; the customer is buying a good, and Twitter needs to get it into their hands and account as quickly as possible. They want a frictionless customer experience, but are sacrificing security as a result.
It’s a familiar concern: if the process takes too long or is too difficult, users may drop out and companies lose the sale. That is why web optimization services are in such high demand.
But Twitter is not the first company that needs to verify digital identity. The financial services industry, for example, faces strict Know Your Customer (KYC) and Anti-Money Laundering (AML) regulations, and yet has managed to accommodate digital onboarding, often using a combination of biometrics and ID cards. physical identification to match a real person. with a government-issued ID. Importantly, many banks can now verify users in a matter of minutes, if not seconds.
In fact, post-pandemic, more consumers than ever are accustomed to these forms of identity verification. Virtual identity verification is no longer an unknown concept to individuals or businesses, as the pandemic has forced hundreds of businesses to determine methods to build trust with customers and keep their systems safe from fraud. From banking to car rentals to online shopping, there are already dozens of use cases on the market that Twitter Blue could follow.
Of course, the level of proof that banks need before allowing a customer to open a checking account may not be what Twitter needs or wants for most of its users. While a full identity verification might be the appropriate method for someone trying to set up a Twitter account claiming to be a political candidate or CEO, it may not be the solution needed for a popular meme account.
This is where Twitter has an opportunity to break new ground when it comes to social media verification and determining what other signs of fraud can transparently determine legitimacy, while also upholding privacy and security values. It’s an area where the growing trend towards digital wallets and identities can be useful, allowing Twitter to see some credentials that lead to account legitimacy, while maintaining the degree of anonymity that has made Twitter such a tool. so effective for social dialogue.
With a new verification system comes new forms of fraud, untapped and untested. Twitter Blue may work, but only if there is real verification behind it.
Yuelin Li is a product manager at offendedoverseeing the product, design and strategy.
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