Twitter is calling for policy input in order to relaunch account verification in early 2021.

November 28, 2020

Twitter today revealed that it plans to relaunch its verification scheme in 2021, and that it will now begin the process of seeking public input on the new policy before it is introduced. Under the regulation, six categories of accounts, including those belonging to government officials, will initially be checked by Twitter; corporations, brands and non-profit organizations; news; entertainment; sports; and activists, organizers and other important people. In time the number of categories could increase.

In 2017, when the company sought to resolve uncertainty about what it meant to be checked, Twitter's verification scheme, which offers a blue checkmark to recognize accounts belonging to public figures, was halted.

The problem at the time was that the account belonging to Jason Keller, the individual who orchestrated the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, had been checked by Twitter. The company defended its decision in response to the surge of criticism aimed at Twitter as a consequence of this move by pointing to its account verification policies, which clarified that its blue badges were awarded to 'public interest' accounts.

Critics argued that legitimately notable figures were already struggling to validate their own identities, and that it was not something that could ever be in the "public interest" to verify a known white nationalist. As a result, Twitter agreed to pause all account verifications in November 2017.

The following year the company announced that work would be put on a longer, more indefinite hold on the verification method, so Twitter could guide its efforts to concentrate on democratic integrity. As it turned out that proved to be a huge undertaking.

While the organization checked medical experts tweeting about COVID-19 this year and labeled candidates running for public office, these efforts were handled in more than a one-off way.

Now with the 2020 U.S. presidential election having finished, and with a transition underway, Twitter says work will eventually start on the new verification method.

To gain public input, the organization today shared a draft of its new verification policy. More importantly, the policy outlines which accounts should be checked and provides additional rules that may prevent the receipt of the blue badge by certain accounts.

For example, Twitter says the account must be "notable and active," and any accounts with incomplete profiles won't be awarded the badge. If their accounts are found to be in persistent violation of the Twitter laws, Twitter will also reject or withhold verification badges from otherwise eligible individuals.

In addition, the organization recognized that it had checked accounts over the years that should not be based on these rules. To fix this, Twitter will start deleting badges from accounts that are inactive or have incomplete profiles automatically to help it streamline its work in the future.

The policy also sets out details about how it will decide if an account will apply in a group sponsored.

For example, news organizations may have to adhere to ethical standards for journalism, and in eligible organizations published in the last six months, independent or freelance journalists will need to provide at least three bylines. Entertainers would need to be able to point to credits or references in checked news articles on their IMDb page. A public reference on an official government website, party website or numerous news media references will need to be shown by government officials. On team pages, rosters or in sports data providers like Sportradar, sports figures would have to appear. In these types, too there are a few other ways of being checked.

The requirements are more comprehensive for public figures, as they must follow two separate "notability" standards, one that quantifies their Twitter behavior and another that highlights their off-Twitter popularity, such as a Wikipedia page, Google Trends profile, an official advocacy site profile, and more.

"We know that with a new policy alone, we can not resolve verification and that this initial policy will not cover every case for verification, but it is a critical first step in helping us to provide more transparency and fairer verification standards on Twitter as we reprioritize this work," a company announcement said. "This version of the policy is a starting point, and we intend to significantly expand the verification categories and criteria over the next year," it added.

Starting today, November 24, 2020 and running through December 8, 2020, Twitter users will be able to provide input on the new verification policy. In English, Hindi, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese and Japanese, the policy is made available. Users may either respond to the survey that Twitter has released, or use the hashtag #VerificationFeedback to publicly tweet their feedback.

Furthermore, Twitter says it is trying to obtain a number of other viewpoints with local non-governmental groups and its Confidence and Safety Council.

Twitter will train its team on the new policy after December 8, 2020, and introduce the final version by December 17, 2020. The system of verification itself, which will require a new public application process, will start at the beginning of 2021.

While Twitter is giving itself time to make policy changes based on public feedback, the underlying technology for the application process for verification has already begun to be developed.

This June, Twitter confirmed to TechCrunch that it was in the process of creating a new in-app verification request system. Reverse engineer Jane Manchun Wong, who tweeted a screenshot of a new option, Request Verification, that appeared under Twitter's account settings, found the feature buried in the app's code. Twitter would not confirm, at that point, when the new system would go live.

Twitter says it is working on other features that will help to better differentiate accounts on its site, but not all will qualify for verification. The company will also launch new account forms and marks in 2021, which will assist Twitter users to mark themselves on their profiles. In the weeks to come, Twitter says, more details on these features will be revealed.

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