Twitter Lets Anyone and Everyone Apply for a Blue Badge

Twitter on Tuesday announced it has opened up the application process for verified account status, which previously was reserved for celebrities and other high-profile users. Any user may now file an online application to have an account verified.

Twitter account verification, denoted by a blue badge icon, flags individuals and organizations as authentic, the company explained.

An account may be verified if it is determined to be of public interest, Twitter noted. Examples include accounts maintained by public figures and organizations in music, TV, film, fashion, government, politics, religion, journalism, media, sports, business, and other key areas of interest.

“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,” explained Tina Bhatnagar, Twitter’s vice president of user services. “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.”

Opaque Process

In the past, how Twitter determined which accounts to anoint with the blue badge of verification was unclear, said Sam Colt, a content associate at the Bateman Group and a verified account holder.

“People have always been unsure about how to get verified. It’s a nebulous process,” he told TechNewsWorld. “If you aren’t a celebrity, you had to know someone at Twitter to make the connection to get verified.”

Verification can be important for some classes of Twitter users.

“Successfully completing the Twitter verification process denotes a kind of legitimacy on the user,” explained Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

“It means that you’ve submitted to the process, been vetted, and that you are who you say you are,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“In certain cases, particularly for people using Twitter for professional purposes, that carries some weight,” said King. “It also makes it difficult or impossible for verified users to be trolled or impersonated.”

Boon for Journalists

Journalists comprise another class of Twitter users who benefit from verification.

“If you’re a verified user, you can filter search information by other verified users — something a journalist would want to do because their information is likely to be the most accurate,” the Bateman Group’s Colt pointed out.

Expanding verification could reduce the risk of some kinds of abuse on Twitter — but will it?

“TLS/SSL certificates have been on websites for many years,” said Dan Mathews, a director at Lastline.

“Does anyone outside of the IT profession pay attention to the padlock in the Web browser bar which acts as an identity assertion mechanism for a website you are trying to reach?” he wondered.

“Will the Twitter verified check mark be any different? Time will tell,” he told TechNewsWorld.

The proliferation of blue check marks on Twitter could bring the verification process some unwanted attention.

Hacker Magnet

“If anything, verification raises the attack surface of an account,” suggested Brad Bussie, director of product management at Stealthbits Technologies.

“Hackers will want to take advantage of the perceived trust that is being created by verification,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“Celebrities constantly battle with others spoofing their Twitter handles by slightly altering the name and using the celebrity’s likeness,” Bussie said. “The problem Twitter still has is actually proving the user behind the tweet is indeed the owner, regardless of a verified account.”

That’s because even verified accounts can be hacked.

“Accounts can still be hacked if someone steals or otherwise obtains passwords and other information,” observed Pund-IT’s King. “What verification does make clear is which accounts are legitimate and which are shams or parodies.”

Fighting Harassment

Expanded verification could help Twitter address another embarrassing problem on the service: online harassment. Such harassment recently drove Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones to quit the service.

“If the new verification process works as the company hopes, it should help make that kind of harassment difficult or even impossible,” King said.

“The company is likely to get some pushback from users who feel Twitter is essentially creating two levels of service — one for verified users and one for the rest,” he continued, but “Twitter has increasingly been tarred by extreme, offensive behavior. Whenever that happens, it negatively impacts the company’s brand.”

That kind of impact is something every online company wants to avoid.

“You can’t afford to have negative user experiences when you’re in an industry where things go viral very quickly,” said Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research.

“This is about making sure they keep their existing user base happy,” he told TechNewsWorld, “more than attracting new users.”

John Mello is a freelance technology writer and contributor to Chief Security Officer magazine. You can connect with him on Google+.

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