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With every element of Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter under constant scrutiny, there’s been no shortage of headlines about the social media giant in recent months. Twitter has had a tumultuous few months under its new owner; there have been layoffs (and new hires); changes to the user experience; and, of course, there’s Twitter’s ongoing effort to fix its user verification system — and monetize it.
When it first launched in November, Twitter Blue – initially pitched as a revenue-generating scheme for the social media platform – quickly took an unexpected turn, involving everyone from LeBron James Unpleasant Lockheed Martin. Twitter pranksters took the opportunity to pay $8 for verification and immediately began impersonating public figures and brands, tweeting salacious and rousing messages that ended companies billions.
The company has since tweaked its Twitter Blue system, creating new authentication badges designed to protect businesses and the government from imposters, and a labeling system that reveals what type of authentication a user has. There is a waiting period for new accounts to sign up for Twitter Blue, as well as a mobile phone number requirement. It’s enough to stop the frenzy of fraud the company faced in November, but still not enough to make a determined cheater.
A blue check mark does not always mean verified
Twitter’s struggle with user verification shows just how vulnerable the online world is to fraud. If a few bored individuals can populate the stock market with just a phone number and an email address, imagine what a few organized bad actors could do. It’s not a risk Twitter — or the economy — can afford.
The issue of pay-to-play verification is almost a self-made pitfall for social media companies, whose blue ticks are arguably the most effective digital literacy tool developed in the last decade.
After years of conditioning, web users assume there’s some level of verification behind the blue tick, even if the steps behind that verification are somewhat foggy. Under Twitter’s old leadership, the blue checkmark was even more than verification; it was validation, and the loss of the blue check was an often-handled punishment for extremists and individuals deemed to have violated Twitter’s policies.
If Musk and Twitter want to reshape the world of social media verification, they must do so by starting with a thorough rethinking of the verification process and their understanding of what Twitter Blue is and what it can be to run. Verification is not just a status that you pay for, but rather a status that users pay to prove.
Sacrifice certainty for experience
Under the latest Twitter Blue update, Twitter treats the verification process as a transaction; the customer buys a good and Twitter needs to get it in their hands and on their account as soon as possible. They want a hassle-free customer experience, but they sacrifice security as a result.
It’s a known problem: if the process takes too long or is too difficult, users can drop out and companies lose sales. That’s why web optimization services are so sought after.
But Twitter isn’t the first company to need to verify digital identity. For example, the financial services industry is subject to strict Know Your Customer (KYC) and Anti-Money Laundering (AML) regulations, and has still managed to adapt digital onboarding, usually using a combination of biometrics and physical ID cards to create a match real person with government issued ID. Importantly, many banks can now verify users in 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 unfamiliar concept to individuals or companies as the pandemic forced hundreds of companies to define methods to build trust with customers while protecting their systems from fraud. From banks to car rentals to online shopping, there are already dozens of use cases in the market that Twitter Blue could model itself on.
Of course, the level of proof that banks require before allowing a customer to open a checking account may not be what Twitter needs or wants for the majority of their users. While a full identity check might be the right method for someone trying to set up a Twitter account claiming to be a political candidate or CEO, it might not be the solution needed for a popular meme account.
This is where Twitter has the opportunity to break new ground when it comes to social media verification, identifying what other fraud signals can seamlessly determine legitimacy while also upholding the values of privacy and security. It’s an area where the growing trend toward digital wallets and identities could be of use – allowing Twitter to see some credentials that lead to account legitimacy, while maintaining the level of anonymity that makes Twitter such an effective tool. for social dialogue.
With a new verification system comes new forms of fraud – untapped and untested. Twitter Blue can work, but only if there’s real verification behind it.
Yuelin Li is the chief product officer for Onfidooversight of product, design and strategy.
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