Verified on Twitter | Session at SXSW2015
SXSW is a yearly conference in Austin, Texas, focusing on emerging technologies and bringing together people “to spark new ideas and carve the path for the future of each ever-evolving field”. Besides a Trade Show, SXSW Interactive also offers panels, workshops and presentations evolving around the future of the internet.
Innovative forms of journalism, such as VR Journalism and Robot Journalism are being discussed here at #SXSW2015. Verification has also been a topic for discussions. One of the sessions held is called „Get verified or go home“, hosted by Drew Lewis. The session specifically focused on Twitter’s verification process and Lewis presented some interesting Twitter facts:
- As of 2015 only 126,000 accounts on Twitter are verified.
- 45% of verified accounts reside in the U.S., 20% in the UK (78% of Twitter users are international).
- Only 2.5% of verified accounts have more than 1 million followers.
- The majority fall between 10,000 and 100,000.
- 17.4% have under 1,000 followers.
How do you get verified?
During the session, the question of transparency of the verification process on Twitter was raised. How does Twitter actually determine whether a user is verified or not? How does the process look like exactly? Obviously, the number of followers cannot be a determining factor, knowing that so many verified accounts have under 1,000 followers. So, what are the criteria?
This is a relevant question for journalists because a verification symbol can be a crucial indicator in determining whether to trust a user on Twitter or not. If an eyewitness tweets a picture or some textual information and a journalist would like to report about it, the journalist first has to verify the source and the content, often in a timely manner. So, the verification symbol on Twitter can be a first hint of whether to trust the Twitter user or not. With the verification process being so intransparent, it makes it difficult for journalists to understand what is actually indicated by the verified checkmark.
Democratisation and transparency of Twitter verification
One of the participants made an interesting suggestion: The initial intention of Twitter to verify individual accounts might seem to be valid for some, but why not democratise the verification process? Let users determine whether someone gets the verification symbol or not. Of course, this would raise more questions, like: what if the users make a mistake by verifying the wrong accounts. However, wouldn’t this process be fairer?
Journalists rely on credible sources. If journalists do not know whether a person tweeting a photo or a video is authentic, even the most interesting content cannot be used. So, the question remains: How could this verification process be more transparent? By keeping this secret to themselves, Twitter might make it useful for them, but not for journalists.