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Twitter's change in verifying users may reshape perception of online identity

Katie Peikes
Delaware Public Media
A Delaware Public Media staff member uses Twitter.

A blue checkmark next to a user’s Twitter handle is reserved for public officials, celebrities and politicians, among others. It’s a way of confirming a user is who they say they are.


But Twitter has changed the way it verifies handles, allowing users to apply for the blue checkmark themselves.

As Delaware Public Media’s Katie Peikes reports, this change may not be as beneficial as some people think.

Twitter has been vague about its reasons for the change, stating it wants to make it easier for users to find influencers or creative individuals on Twitter. College of Staten Island (part of the City University of New York network) associate professor of media culture Chris Anderson believes Twitter may have maxed out its ability to verify users under its old process. Under the old process, Twitter employees sought accounts they thought needed verification, but how they made that call is a mystery.

Anderson said opening verification up to the public is indicative of how identity on the internet has changed.

"The fact that we're now all so concerned with and so eager to be verified on Twitter is another sign that what the internet is and how identity works on the internet has really changed," Anderson said. "I’m not saying it’s bad. It’s probably very good for a lot of reasons that we have verified identity on the internet. But it certainly is different, and to me that's really interesting."


Blue checkmarks, Anderson said, signify the elite - those "worthy" of being verified.


"And now, if everyone is going to have a blue check next to their name, then that status marker really does go away," he said.


Twitter currently has close to 200,000 verified accounts, out of 13 million monthly users - making the fraction of verified users a fairly exclusive club.

Jeff Pooley, an associate professor of media and communication at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania, said he thinks making more people eligible for the blue badge is an overdue change; it democratizes access to these badges.

"Having a blue verified badge signals that you’re important," Pooley said. "And as a result it has become a coveted badge to own and one that folks have been clamoring to obtain themselves."

But just because a user applies to be verified doesn’t mean they will get that elusive check mark, keeping it something of a status symbol. It could leave some users seeing red - instead of blue - if rejected.


"It is a kind of insult or confirmation that you really don’t matter, you really don’t have public interest, if you were to receive something like this," Pooley said.