Fake news and disinformation thrive on the social media, and especially on Twitter. The specific format of tweets – short text messages accompanied by links, videos or photos – make it very easy for people to share lots of messages in a relatively short time. While this is very useful for media and news outlets for developing stories, it is also useful for those with a hidden agenda who want to fuel fear and mistrust.
To make things more complicated, Twitter has an unclear system of verifying profiles. And a reputable New York Times journalist recently called out the social media network on this – using their own platform. This triggered a response from Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, followed by an official reply from the Twitter Support account.
A Growing Need of Authoritative Voices on Twitter
In her original tweet, NY Times journalist Jennifer Senior inquired why reputable scientists do not have verified profiles on Twitter. This is more important than ever during the current COVID-19 pandemic. The social media network has a constant flow of tweets dealing with topics such as the origin of the virus, the likelihood of having a vaccine out soon and ways to prevent or treat an infected person.
As one may expect, many of these tweets come from people who are not doctors, microbiologists or other types of healthcare professionals. However, without a verified profile, it is very possible that reputed specialists, who are not popular on the social media or the mass media, may not get their message across.
This is why the issue of verified profiles became a hot topic that went as high as the CEO of Twitter.
The Current State of Profile Verification
A verified Twitter profile displays a blue badge next to the name. Right now, the process is on hold, meaning that Twitter no longer accepts new applications for profile verification.
However, the tweet posted by Twitter Support acknowledges that the platform is making efforts to identify authoritative voices, reach out to them and encourage them to complete their profile in order to receive the blue badge. The guidelines that Twitter is sending out to experts are to add an email address “associated with an authoritative organisation or institution”.
Also, their bio section, references and links should indicate the association with the respective organisation.
A Joint Effort to Speed Up the Verification Process for Healthcare Experts
At the same time, Twitter is considering reaching out to its users to indicate names of reputed specialists who do not have a verified profile yet. For now, only users with a background in healthcare are invited to contribute.
The response was prompt and enthusiastic. Jennifer Senior’s original tweet raising the issue now has hundreds of replies from various professionals, some having the blue badge, who are sharing their lists of healthcare professionals eligible for a verified account.
Time to Remove the Controversy
The issue with Twitter verified accounts is that there has been no clear system for validating them properly. This is exactly why the process was put on hold back in 2017, after a right wing extremist received the blue badge.
And even during the current pandemic, misinformation and false news come from some verified accounts, as well as from regular people who spread them out of malice or ignorance.
The fact that the Twitter team is working on improving its system, albeit for a very specific type of verified accounts, is a good sign. It will probably lead to a complete reformation of the process, which will make the blue badge truly valuable in the future for those qualified to display it.