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Twitter is finally verifying people again

After more than three years, the company is reopening a process for getting public figures a checkmark.

A photo illustration of the Twitter Spaces page.
Twitter will begin verifying accounts that are in the public interest with a new process starting on Thursday.
Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
Shirin Ghaffary is a senior Vox correspondent covering the social media industry. Previously, Ghaffary worked at BuzzFeed News, the San Francisco Chronicle, and TechCrunch.

Twitter is finally giving those coveted blue checkmarks again. And this time, it says it will be more clear about who can get verified and who can’t.

More than three years after it halted profile verifications amid a backlash for handing them out to white supremacists, Twitter has revamped and relaunched its verification process. Starting Thursday, Twitter users around the world can apply for verification within the Twitter app, under an updated set of guidelines the company released in December 2020. Twitter will verify accounts of “high public interest” by marking their profiles with a blue shield and check icon.

At the same time, Twitter will also, on a case-by-case basis, unverify accounts that violate its rules.

“Today’s application rollout marks the next milestone in our plans to give more transparency, credibility and clarity to verification on Twitter,” read a company blog post released on Thursday morning.

The new process creates a more public system for people to get verified on Twitter, which is an important form of social currency for pop culture stars, journalists, and world leaders alike. Currently, more than 360,000 people are verified on Twitter. While the company wouldn’t say how many people it expects to apply, it will likely receive a deluge of applications. Here’s what we know about how Twitter will decide who gets verified — and some potential complications for its new process.

Who can qualify, and how can I sign up?

To be eligible to get verified, you have to belong to one of the following six categories:

  • Government
  • Companies, brands, and organizations
  • News organizations and journalists
  • Entertainment
  • Sports and gaming
  • Activists, organizers, and other influential individuals

You’ll also need to have a profile name and image, and give Twitter either a confirmed email address or phone number to prove you are who you say you are. You also have to be found to be in compliance with Twitter’s rules, which include restrictions on hate speech and threatening content.

Anyone can sign up to become Twitter verified in the Accounts Setting tab of the app. Once you submit your request, Twitter says it will give you a response within a few days, or up to a few months, depending on the queue. If you’re denied verification, you can reapply after 30 days.

People who are already verified don’t need to reapply.

For each category, Twitter has specific criteria that determine eligibility. For example, if you’re a journalist, you must belong to what Twitter considers a “qualifying newsroom,” or, if you’re a freelancer, prove that you have at least three bylines in qualifying publications within the last six months.

Twitter said it plans to also add categories for academics, scientists, and religious leaders some time in the next year.

While these groups add some structure to the verification process, there’s still a lot of wiggle room. For example, if you can prove that you started a “hashtag or movement” that is “capturing a large volume of conversation,” you can make the case that you belong to the “activists, organizers, and other influential individuals” bucket.

But when does a rising activist make the cut-off for influencing a large enough “volume of conversation”? What about a viral meme maker who isn’t written about in traditional news outlets?

Twitter said that it’s expanding a team of human reviewers who will determine who meets eligibility criteria for verification.

What Twitter’s new form for getting verified will look like.
Courtesy: Twitter

Another big question concerns how strictly Twitter will limit people who meet the criteria for being influential — but have broken Twitter’s rules that ban content that promotes hate speech, violence, or health misinformation.

In a press call with reporters, Twitter product leaders declined to share specifics about how they were planning to enforce this part of the verification process, saying they will determine eligibility around rules on a “case-by-case basis.” The company said it will also increase efforts to revoke verification for accounts that break Twitter’s rules — and that includes politicians. In the past, Twitter has exempted politicians like former President Donald Trump from its normal rules when it determined those tweets to be newsworthy and in the public interest.

Some of Twitter’s past verification decisions have been extremely controversial. In 2017, the company was criticized for giving a blue checkmark to Jason Kessler, the organizer of the deadly white nationalist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. That prompted a lot of criticism of Twitter. Soon after, the company took away verification from Kessler, white nationalist Richard Spencer, and a handful of other extremists, and announced it was pausing its entire process to rethink its policy on the matter. Since then, the company says it has still verified some high-priority accounts like health experts during the Covid-19 pandemic and politicians running for office — but it hasn’t had a standardized process.

In November 2020, Twitter shared a draft policy for a new verification process and asked for public comment on the matter. The company received 22,000 survey responses in two weeks. That volume shows how much people care about this process — and for good reason.

Politicians running for Congress have argued that they’re less electable without a checkmark. Journalists use it to show their followers that they’re credible news sources. And influencers use verification as a status symbol to gain promotional deals.

Because of the high volume of politicians in particular who use Twitter, the platform also attracts political scrutiny over who Twitter decides is verified or not, and inevitable accusations that Twitter is favoring certain people or parties over others.

While Twitter’s move toward making a standard verification process is a step in the right direction for transparency, we’ll likely see a lot of debate about the application of these rules in the months to come.

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