Twitter will add badges to the profiles of verified political candidates during the United States midterms in step one of a plan to reduce the levels of counterfeit profiles and limit the amount of misinformation specific to political campaigns.
But this tactic could spill over into other areas, with the generic ‘verified’ badge – that has long been a status symbol on Twitter – and is still on hold – often being misconstrued as an endorsement by the social network. This is most problematic when it comes to the profiles of extremists or those with divisive political views. When white supremacists, for example, were verified by Twitter, the verification was misunderstood by many as an endorsement of the person in question. Twitter attempted to respond to this criticism by saying that their verified badges denote only that the profile in question is a public figure’s primary profile, but this didn’t seem to sink in.
The review of the verified process has led to political candidate badges, and should this be successful, it’s likely that more subcategories will follow. Artists, movie stars, authors and journalists are likely to be next and over time, even generic verification will likely be available.
But how will other social networks, who have been working tirelessly to reduce ‘fake news’ and misunderstandings, choose to treat the election season? Facebook may choose to follow suit, verifying candidates before allowing them to speak openly on the platform, thus enabling freedom of speech, but removing the ability of anyone to publish false information about an individual. But this has not been the problem for Facebook; the major issue is fake profiles, created professionally and used to peddle second-hand information, such as posts claiming that a political candidate said something. Interestingly, verification – at least robust verification – may be able to solve this too. It means that individuals who verify their account through a series of identity checks – similar to what happens when you buy Bitcoin through an exchange – have more credibility on the network. For a majority of users, it doesn’t matter either way because they are communicating with their personal network, and not trying to make a political point beyond that, but verification could mean a slowing of the ability to hack social networks.