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Twitter Verification Is the Internet’s Gated Community

Twitter’s verified badge — a tiny white check-mark surrounded by a blue ribbon-shaped circle (as if to say, “Congratulations! You are important!”) — quickly became a status symbol. When the site started rolling out the feature as a way to determine who was a real famous person and who was just a super-fan posing as a celebrity, it was an easy way to immediately separate the important Twitter users from the average user who was tweeting jokes about his or her lunch. Soon, media outlets and their employees became verified (mostly in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and the Boston bombings, which saw loads of unsubstantiated rumors spread by several amateur news junkies). The process is a mystery — one cannot simply apply for a verified account. Which is why it’s confusing now that Twitter is rolling out a new feature that enables only verified users to filter the types of mentions they receive from unverified accounts.

Twitter announced the new feature in a blog post today (via The Verge):

As part of our product development process, we regularly reach out to our partners to better understand what would improve the Twitter experience. One item of feedback we’ve gotten from verified users: an easier way to manage the large number of conversations they’re in.

As a first step, we’ll be rolling out the ability for verified users to go to their Connect tab on the web and toggle between mentions in three categories: all, filtered and verified. Selecting “Filtered” will show mentions based on an algorithm we use to filter out spam, and choosing “Verified” means they’ll only see mentions from other verified accounts.

This is an intriguing feature, for sure, as the whole point of Twitter is that everyone on it is on some equal playing field. Yes, some people are more famous than others, and certainly those celebrities are bombarded with random requests from fans (which, I assume, is why most famous people hire someone to tweet for them). But then there are the rest of the verified group: those B- and C-list celebrities who climbed up the Twitter ranks with their 140-character jokes, staff members at prominent online media companies, and brands like Wheat Thins and Bounty.

One imagines that the “feedback” Twitter has received from its verified users about needing “an easier way to manage the large number of conversations they’re in” is more along the lines of, “I wish I didn’t have to see every time a stranger mentions me.” Which, I suppose, is pretty easy because it’s not hard to ignore a comment posted anywhere on the Internet unless you have the compulsion to see what everyone is saying about you. But I think the major problem is that this so-called algorithm doesn’t make sense: how, exactly, will Twitter automatically filter out the randos and the strangers from your view?

And considering that the process of verification is so under-the-radar and seemingly random (for example, as of this writing, the account for LAist is verified, but Gothamist’s flagship Twitter account is not), it seems a bit odd to offer these features to a select few. If there were an application process for verification or, hell, even allowing every user to filter which mentions they see, this might not seem like what Maura Johnston described as “a gated community.” Twitter picks the people who can get perks, and now will allow those people to choose which users aren’t worthy enough for acknowledgement. Sure, that’s a fairly dramatic analysis, but there’s an undercurrent of “Us and Them” at play here, and it frankly sullies the original community-focused ideals that the service created.

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