What talking to a Twitter newbie taught me about verified accounts

A few months ago, I went to a panel event sponsored by the Brookings Institution Center for Technology Innovation featuring Twitter CEO Dick Costolo. It was an interesting panel, and I highly recommend any Brookings-sponsored events (most, if not all, are free!), but I was most struck with what I learned after the event.

The panel discussion was in the middle of the work day, so I had to ask my boss’ permission to take an early, extended lunch to attend. When I returned, he asked me how it was and if I learned anything. Of course, I told him I had (I did!), and summarized some of the things I learned. One thing I relayed was an audience question asking Costolo why, as the CEO of Twitter, wasn’t his account verified? His response was that it simply did not meet Twitter’s criteria for verified accounts. During the discussion, Dick’s response made perfect sense to me. When I relayed it to my boss (a non-Twitter user), however, his first two questions were, “what’s a verified account?” and, after I explained, “why wouldn’t you want all accounts to be verified?” For example, “if I were looking up chefs in Chicago, wouldn’t I want to know that the people I am choosing to follow or get information from actually ARE chefs in Chicago? Why does the White House get verified but a chef in Chicago or any other person who claims they are this or that does not?”twitter_verified_account

I thought this was an interesting question and ultimately posed it to Twitter. The best answer I received was that regular accounts aren’t verified because risk of bad information from them does not matter. Accounts are verified on Twitter “to establish authenticity of identities of key individuals and brands.” (Source.) If a chef in Chicago said duck fat fries prevent heart attack, people would more likely than not think he was just being silly or facetious in an attempt to promote a new menu item. If the American Heart Association’s Twitter account Tweeted duck fat fries prevent heart attack, people would likely treat it as fact because they are a known credible source.

The same holds true for following verified accounts in general. If my boss was looking for chefs in Chicago on Twitter, he would want his list to be as accurate as possible. Having a process to verify all accounts would certainly assist with his goal to have an accurate list, but most reasonable people would probably agree that having a few people on the list who he later finds out are merely pretending to be chefs in Chicago would not matter much. Compiling a list of government organizations and ensuring their credibility would matter much more, though, because the stakes are higher when it comes to assessing information from them as a credible source.

This discussion with my boss was enlightening because it forced me to think about Twitter in a way I usually don’t. I have never thought to ask why ALL accounts aren’t verified. For me, verified accounts are what they are and all other accounts are just… not. I think it’s easy for people who regularly use a certain platform or technology to talk about the way it works as de facto. I realized this is to our detriment because innovation comes not just from asking HOW, but WHY. Yes, it can be frustrating to explain how things work to a newbie or a client, but doing so can be important for us, as social media professionals and enthusiasts, to take a step back, consider the why, and get a better understanding of what we know and love. This will help us ultimately become better practitioners and teachers, spurring learning, innovation, and inclusion.

Since this discussion, I have found myself asking “why” about social media more often. On verified accounts for example, why do they get beta Tweet filtering (all/no replies) and the rest of us don’t? I’d love to be able to look at someone’s stream and see only the content I’d likely see in my timeline. Moreover, I think there should be three options: all/no replies/people you know. The third option would give us the ability to see Tweets between the handle we are looking at and people we follow, which would be the reply Tweets that would filter into our timeline. Hopefully we will all get this feature after the beta testing phase.

I’m curious to know what our SMCDC audience thinks. Are there things you have questioned why about on social platforms?

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