The little blue tick

In 2009 I was managing the corporate twitter account of a financial institution, it was right after the global financial crisis and the market was volatile. There were lots of real issues, there were court cases, there were rumours. Any bad news could trigger a drop in share price. Twitter was new, as a company we saw value in the platform, and we very quickly saw the risks.

Someone created a profile that looked like as if it belonged to rival company and began posting “rumours” that our company was going to be asking the government for further financial aid. If that rumour had been taken seriously it would have dropped our share price. Luckily the local journalists were debunking it in real time – asking the poster to provide evidence and pointing out the legal consequences of trying to manipulate the market. Meanwhile I was contacting twitter and trying to get them to remove the tweets – this was before Twitter had really developed business services. Twitter did not see the problem, and quoted free speech concepts at me. It was only when I said it was spam that they took action. Whew!

So when the blue tick authentication was launched it seemed a great step forward, we could now get our company accounts verified so people would know who to trust. Given the rise of using Twitter as a service channel this was hugely important for our customers, they could use their twitter accounts to contact us for help.

The verification system wasn’t perfect but it built trust. It benefited companies, customers, twitter users, legal authorities and twitter.

Twitter announced late last year that they would allow people to buy a verification mark. People pointed out immediately how bad that could be for business and there was a backdown, temporarily as it turned out. This month twitter has started removing the blue check from what are now called “legacy verifications”.

The new rules will limit how you can use your twitter account, shifting Twitter from a free service paid for by advertising to a freemium service where you can use a limited version of the service for free, but if you pay you can use a full set of features. This is not a bad decision in itself, and if Twitter had done this in about 2011 they could have built out all sorts of services that are now provided by third parties. Many businesses pay six or seven figure fees for services that include social listening, managing multiple users on accounts, scheduling content, securing content publication to prevent bank account numbers being published (for example). Twitter was too slow in understanding real business concerns to build services that are useful to people with deep pockets.

The proposed twitter offer is 100-120 euro per year for a blue tick that will let you

  • 30 minute window to edit your tweet
  • book mark folders
  • custom app icons
  • NFT profile pictures when connected to your crypto walet
  • more themes
  • custom navigation
  • space tabs – to find audio content and only on iOS and android devices
  • top articles, a shortcut to most-shared articles in your network
  • reader – for long threads
  • undo tweet
  • prioritizes your replies (so you will appear above better or earlier responses in a twitter conversation
  • longer videos – up to 60 minutes/2GB
  • longer tweets
  • use two factor authentication via SMS (this caused much discussion)

Apparently also voting in polls and “Half ads” will be added to subscribers.

I used to use twitter a lot. For many years I programmed tweetdeck to tweet something useful once a day and added my “hot takes” through the week. Then twitter started notifying me about a lot of dumb shit, and whatever I did I couldn’t turn off the “here’s something from someone who hasn’t posted in a while” notifications. It became too distracting and I removed the app from my phone. Twitter could still be a useful tool for me, technically I could afford the blue check mark. But…

Once the guidelines for a blue tick talked about “authentic, notable and active“, and thought of the purpose behind verification was “to encourage and maintain trust between users on the platform”, now the threshold is whether you can pay, and a few steps to limit bots getting blue checks.

We need to stop talking about people on twitter with a blue check mark as being “verified”, they are subscribers. There is no longer any verification on twitter.

Mashable reports that half of twitter subscribers have fewer than 1000 followers. It’s possible to use and enjoy twitter with a low follower count, but these are not the people that drive engagement. As Nathan Hubbard, formerly in charge of the Twitter media team, stated they worked really hard to bring celebrities on to twitter because “almost all of the engagement on twitter happens with tweets with high profile people/organizations across government, sports, music, business, news… they’re the lifeblood of the platform” (You can read the whole thread – it’s worth it.) Engagement translates as eyeballs, which translates as advertising money.

Killing the verification option is not only bad for users, it introduces risk for consumers and businesses and will be bad for twitter’s bottom line. There was no reason to kill it. A smart leader would have introduced a freemium model with some sexy new services alongside the verification service. I might have paid if you’d offered editing + extra content options to make all 4054 of my followers happy.

It is possible that the actual verification service might be reinstated once the data is in – but I’m not holding my breath.

Non-paid blue ticks have been removed, except if you’re seriously famous with more than a million followers, or able to troll the CEO of twitter. It’s an ongoing story.

And today I saw a tweet in the “for you” feed from the glorious leader himself

Fair enough, he owns the place. But I found I was also following him, and I would swear I have never followed him and that on the 10 November 2022 I ensured that I was not following him when I posted this.

I’m already using Mastodon, this weekend’s project will be exiting Twitter.

Header image by Lisa McCarty from Pixabay