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Instagram's surprisingly simple answer to verification

Who deserves a "verified" badge? On Twitter, the issue has been surprisingly contentious. Last Novemb
August 28 · Issue #196 · View online
The Interface
Who deserves a “verified” badge? On Twitter, the issue has been surprisingly contentious. Last November, the company briefly verified the account of Jason Kessler, a white supremacist who organized the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, VA. Reaction to Kessler getting his badge was swift and negative, and Twitter used the occasion to say — as it now likes to do, all the time — that it would use the occasion to rethink everything. In the case of verification, the company would simply stop verifying anyone until it could say for certain what it meant to be verified.
“Verification was meant to authenticate identity & voice but it is interpreted as an endorsement or an indicator of importance,” the company said in a tweet. “We recognize that we have created this confusion and need to resolve it. We have paused all general verifications while we work and will report back soon.”
As I’ve written before, Twitter’s verification process was a mess from the start. It began as a panicked reaction to former St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa suing the company for allowing someone to impersonate him. (LaRussa eventually dropped the suit.) But verification evolved into something both more important and more nebulous, as I wrote last year:
Over time, though, Twitter began granting special privileges to verified users. They got analytics, which were otherwise available only to advertisers, showing them how their tweets performed. They got a tab showing only their interactions with other verified users — a ham-fisted way of dealing with the abuse that celebrities received from regular accounts. When Twitter introduced new keyword filters designed to combat abuse, verified users got them first.
Along the way, Twitter said very little about the criteria for verification. For years, there was no obvious way to apply. Either Twitter reached out to you, or you got to know someone at the company. And so the verification badge came to carry a sheen of authority: this person, the badge suggested, is a known quantity. This is an account that Twitter trusts.
The real trouble began in January 2016, when Twitter removed the badge from the profile of noxious right-wing personality Milo Yiannopoulos. No one disputed that the account belonged to Yiannopoulos. By removing his badge for bad behavior, the company suggested that the blue checkmark was also a mark of approval.
The next year, after the Kessler debacle, Twitter said it would begin taking users’ offline behavior into account in determining who should be verified. This March, CEO Jack Dorsey said Twitter could eventually let everyone verify their accounts. And then last month, in a comical final note to the entire affair, Twitter announced that it was abandoning the verification project indefinitely because it was busy working on other things.
I apologize for the lengthy preamble here. But in a world where trust in social feeds is collapsing, a workable verification system could serve as a powerful ally. And so I was heartened to see today that Instagram had quietly tackled the verification process on its own — and come up with something workable and useful.
The short version is that anyone can now apply to be verified on Instagram, though the company will continue to verify only those who meet a high set of standards, including “notability.” (Sorry, normals.) Cofounder Mike Krieger laid out the particulars in a blog post:
To be verified, an account must comply with Instagram’s Terms of Service and Community Guidelines. We will review verification requests to confirm the authenticity, uniqueness, completeness and notability of each account. Visit the Help Center to learn more about Instagram’s verification criteria.
To access the verification request form, go to your profile, tap the menu icon, select “Settings” at the bottom and then choose “Request Verification.” You will need to provide your account username, your full name and a copy of your legal or business identification. This information will not be shared publicly.
Here Krieger has laid out, in plain language, what it means to be verified on Instagram. The company has verified that you are who you say you are; that you only have one account; and that the account is “notable” in some way. What does that mean? The Help Center lays it out: “Currently, only Instagram accounts that have a high likelihood of being impersonated have verified badges.”
The policy isn’t democratic in the sense of Dorsey’s spring proclamation that someday everyone could have a badge on Twitter. But it does open the door to more people getting badges on Instagram, and doing its part to improve trust on the service.
Notably, the announcement came with two other trust-improving measures. One, Instagram will now allow users to improve the security of their accounts by using third-party authenticator apps, an improvement over the more easily hacked SMS codes. And two, a new “About this account” feature attached to profiles will show you information that is helpful in identifying fake accounts:
There, you will see the date the account joined Instagram, the country where the account is located, accounts with shared followers, any username changes in the last year and any ads the account is currently running.
These are smart measures that help Instagram build trust in its user base, while making it harder for bad actors to exploit its platform. By approaching the question of verification as narrowly as possible — focused only on eliminating the confusion that comes from impersonation and parody — Instagram arrived at a reasonable way to invite its entire user base to apply.
Of course, Instagram’s historical status as a way to share cheerful brunch photos with friends means it hasn’t been stress-tested in quite the same way Twitter has. Yiannopoulos has an Instagram account that would seem to meet all of Krieger’s stated requirements for verification; will Instagram grant him a badge? If yes, than we’ll see a reprise of the attacks Twitter faced when it verified Kessler. If not, then expect to see a bunch of conservatives who aren’t granted badges taking center stage in an eventual Congressional hearing about Instagram “shadow banning” Republicans.
But until then, I’m struck by how a question that reduced Twitter to paralysis got such a straightforward answer from its rival. Journalists often wag their fingers when tech companies copy one another — but if Twitter wants to lift this idea wholesale, I promise to limit myself to a respectful nod.

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And finally ...
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is many things: corrupt former president of Iran, conspiracy theorist, and nuclear weapons enthusiast. But it’s not just nukes he loves — he also loves Twitter, and he released the following tweet today to the global town square:
Autocrats: they’re just like us!
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