Over the last 15 years, my affinity for social networks have come and gone, but Twitter has remained largely constant and for the most part, beneficial. That said, Twitter has some serious wounds that they have yet to address after all of this time. Twitter does have a tendency to get toxic in its discourse and does seem to often devolve to trolling and harassment. While Twitter has paid lip service on fixing the issue, boasting about their improved capabilities in reporting and responding to abuse, it doesn’t seem like Twitter has the wherewithal to take the issue head-on.
Twitter’s problem: the blue checkmark
I remember when Twitter started to gain traction beyond the tech community, and you would start to see actual bonafide celebrities gain a massive amount of Twitter followers. Given the skepticism of the platform and its stage of growth, it made perfect sense for Twitter to institute a “verified” certification to help followers distinguish between a real person from a fake or parody account. However, that blue checkmark has morphed into a validity tracker, a sign of whether someone has “made it” in the zeitgeist of popular culture.
By being secretive about how and which Twitter users get verified, Twitter has enabled the checkmark to become a status symbol, and a clear way of distinguishing who Twitter deems an influencer on their platform. This has resulted in the public developing a belief that verification is a defacto Twitter endorsement of that user on their platform. You see this play out when a celebrity or influencer causes controversy, which is met with an outcry that their verification status should be taken away.
Twitter needs to get back to the basics and impose the original intention of its blue check mark – that the Twitter user is in fact who they claim to be. This is the root of how to fix Twitter.
Step 1: Enable any user to get a blue checkmark
Rather than reserve it for the elite amongst our population, verification should be accessible by anyone. In fact, Twitter should enable users to request verification by collecting a modest fee – say $10-15 – to cover the costs of validating a users identity. As a user who is vested in the platform, I would gladly pay that amount to prove the legitimacy of my accounts identity to the world. In many
Step 2: Change the platform to ignore mentions and replies by unverified users
Twitter could then alter their interface to toggle between showing mentions/replies/interactions from unverified users. They say that on the Internet, anonymity is a hell of a drug – then enable Twitter users, from celebs to muggles, to choose whether they want to remove anonymity from their engagement. People could even take it a step further and allow their Tweets only to be seen by verified users. There are benefits in Twitter providing access to anonymity (e.g. whistle-blowing, speaking out against an oppressive government), but those that are concerned about trolling and harassment can easily disengage from those that aren’t brave enough to attach their identity to their comments.
Step 3: Ban the disruptive users
I know, they already ban the trolls, especially when they cross the line. Many will turn around and create another account, but this time when they do it, they will permanently lose their access to verification. They will now be relegated to the cesspool of anonymity that can easily be turned off with a toggle of the switch.
I realize this won’t fix all of Twitter’s problems, but I do think it would go a long way of re-establishing credibility within the platform, promote civility among their users, but yet continue to enable the ability to converse, discuss and debate on this public platform.
Please, @jack and the rest of Twitter, democratize the blue checkmark. Oh, and stop being jerks to the app developers that got you where you are today.