Challenges of paid certification on Twitter

Last week, Twitter rolled out new user profile authentication rules, including a controversial proposal to offer “blue check” verification to anyone who pays an $8-a-month subscription, then quickly backed off. Its new owner, Elon Musk, assured that these changes will allow to democratize the policy of verified accounts and make profits, but the change of the certification system revealed serious flaws.

A few days after the incident at Twitter, which was recorded at the end of October, Elon Musk initiated radical structural changes aimed at reducing the company’s financial losses, the first of which was a modification of the process of verifying user accounts. .

The Twitter Blue subscription service, which allows you to get the famous blue verification badge for $8 per month, was decided by the social network, especially for the registration of a new source of income. advertising. According to Elon Musk, it’s also about intentionally disrupting Twitter for good.

After ten days of controversy and the initial launch of the iPhone a week ago, Elon Musk announced on Wednesday, November 16 that this new subscription has been delayed until November 29 “to make sure it’s concrete.” .

Instead of relying on a system of internal checks to authenticate accounts and limiting access to high-profile individuals and organizations such as politicians, celebrities or institutions, Twitter Blue will allow any of the network’s estimated 436 million users to obtain verification for a fee. . Twitter Blue will “democratize journalism and empower the voice of the people,” tweeted Elon Musk.

“Verification is actually a service that Twitter offers to its users”

But for many users, the changes further undermined trust in the social network. 70% of twittos in the US use the site as a quick source of information, and its usage often peaks during high-profile events. The death of Michael Jackson in 2009 was the reason a record number of tweets per second. Since then, major events – such as the death of Whitney Houston or the launch of the American military raid that killed Osama Bin Laden, the leader of the al-Qaeda terrorist network – have been announced on the social network before being confirmed later. official sources.

With hundreds of millions of tweets being sent daily, verification is essential and allows users to filter information, with blue icons serving as a visual to clearly indicate authentic and verified sources.

Compared to other platforms, “Twitter offers this feature that helps distinguish a well-known user or influential media from a parody account,” said Dr. Robin Kaplan says. Verification is actually a service that Twitter provides to its users.”

Replacing the current certification system – however imperfect – with a generalized and paid access represents a radical change in how users interact on the platform. Some of them have demonstrated how easy and possible it is, with changes decided by Elon Musk, to create fake Blue Twitter accounts. “In terms of what people have to provide to get blue ticks, nothing is confirmed anymore,” Dr. Robyn Kaplan continues.

The result: parody accounts quickly proliferated, including those of Jesus Christ, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and NBA star LeBron James, all “verified” by the new system. An “authenticated” Nintendo account posted a photo of the popular Mario character giving the finger. A fake Nestlé account has more than 44,000 likes: “We steal your water and sell it to you.” Former leaders George W. Bush and Tony Blair tweeted nostalgia for the Iraq War (2003) on their official accounts.

At first glance, the blue badge and real-sounding username make it difficult to distinguish real accounts from parodies—sometimes with dramatic real-world consequences. As the cost of insulin rises beyond the reach of many people with diabetes in the US, a verified account has impersonated pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and claimed the group has decided to provide the drug for free.

Within hours, the tweet garnered more than 1,500 retweets and 11,000 likes as Eli Lilly’s share price fell nearly 5%, leading to billions of dollars in market capitalization losses for the group.

The tweet in question caused panic at Eli Lilly, the Washington Post reports, with company representatives desperately trying to reach Twitter. In vain. Overwhelmed by uncertainty over Elon Musk’s future and massive layoffs since his takeover, his site went unresponsive for several hours.

Social cost

Leading figures have reiterated the need for properly verified accounts to protect children from cat-fishing, which has a practice of inventing fake identities and impersonating famous people online.

“I felt powerless to prevent people from using my name and likeness to deceive or tempt people. So the review happened,” wrote British actor Rob Kazinski. In a thread (discussion thread) on Twitter. criticizes the changes in the inspection system.

In response to the changes on Twitter, the NGO Human Rights Watch issued a statement on Saturday, November 12, warning that online identity theft “can have serious, even fatal, consequences for human rights defenders.”

The effects can spread to Twitter users and the company itself. “Identity theft creates legal challenges for those involved,” says Paul Wragg, professor of media law at the University of Leeds and host of the Media Law Podcast. “Claims for defamation, slander, or improper dissemination of personal information may be brought against either the account operator or Twitter directly for allowing it to happen.”

Faced with mounting controversy, the social network suspended Twitter Blue on Tuesday. But it has not officially withdrawn from offering the service, and changes to its vetting process are still in the works. A white and gray badge followed by the word “official” has been added to popular profiles, replicating the function of the old blue badge. In the system, which will be launched on November 29, “any name change will result in the loss of the blue checkmark until the name is approved by Twitter,” Elon Musk promised on Tuesday. He also said that non-subscribers will lose their blue badge (if they got it for free) in the coming months.

>> Also read: Twitter takeover: Elon Musk, a boss influenced by Riyadh and Beijing?

Changes to Twitter’s verification policy are at the heart of a wide range of questions plaguing many online platforms. Should users prove their identity or be allowed to act anonymously? Is social media a means of amplifying unheard voices? Does trivializing expertise fuel disinformation? And companies must decide whether these issues are best addressed by the network’s internal policies or by external interlocutors.

There are a few easy answers. Allowing anonymity through weak or incomplete vetting procedures “has a social cost,” says Paul Wragg. “This is about the real harm of adults and children being deceived by scams and scams.”

Mass generalization of inspection is also an imperfect solution. “Because options such as anonymity and pseudonymity will begin to disappear on the Internet, warns Dr. Robin Kaplan. We know that they play a very important role for freedom of expression and privacy, especially in areas of the world where it is really important to preserve these elements.”

There is evidence that disclosing personal information online puts individuals at higher risk of harassment and discrimination.

Dr. According to Robyn Kaplan, there will be more scrutiny on Twitter to reassure advertisers, who account for 92% of the platform’s revenue and see certification as a way to reduce the risk of their ads being seen alongside offensive content.

Advertisers’ concerns may challenge Elon Musk, who wants to take a more aggressive approach to Twitter’s profitability than his predecessors. Another earthquake that marked his takeover was the layoff of almost half of the company’s workforce, some 3,700 people in total, including members of teams responsible for human rights, disability access and reducing bias and prejudice.

While there is no consensus on how governments and legal bodies should intervene to regulate the social network, Twitter users and their parody accounts, those opposed to changing the rules of the game are the strongest opposition so far. .

Dr. “Because people use these platforms every day, they feel like they have a say in how these companies are run,” says Robyn Kaplan.

“There’s debate around concepts like platform responsibility, because leaving everything in the hands of these companies relies on them being on your side. And what we’re seeing with Elon Musk is, ‘a new owner can come in and really change the rules.’ of the game’.

Article adapted from English by Marc Daou. Find the original version here.

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