In writing The Trouble with Twitter: Trolls, Verifications removed & Stock failing, I hunted around the internet to learn more about the Twitter Verified process. Countless articles later, I still know that my journalists friends were verified because they were contacted by someone they sort of knew at twitter - regardless of journalistic experience, byline-numbers or even the level of followers as a handful will do. I could show you a few examples but I don't want to be singling people out for something only Twitter has control over. That, and everyone who has received the magic checkmark hold their cards as close to their chest as Twitter does. But then I also found this article at Digitaltrends, where they explain how they lost their blue checkmark. They stopped advertising on Twitter. When they reached out for an explanation of where their Verified mark vanished to, Twitter responded to them with this:
“Verification is something we offer our active advertisers meeting the $5K/month minimum spend associated with our Platform Partnership.”
“…If you were to re-visit Promoted Products further down the road and were able to meet that $5K/month minimum, this verification would be reinstated.”
Those little blue "verified" check marks have become status symbols. And while verified accounts aren't officially for sale, Twitter advertisers who spend a minimum of $15,000 over three months can get one, according to a media publisher who has been trying to get his magazine's account verified.
So it's clear, the ways you get verified at Twitter is either is via that mystery friend at Twitter, or the magical "twitter picked you" because you are Kim Kardashian, or you simply pay your way to the blue checkmark. But as Digitaltrends discovered twitter can still remove your checkmark when you stop advertising. So it's not just Milo Yiannopoulos who gets his checkmark revoked, while Twitter points to their rules and decline to further elaborate on what he did wrong, Digitaltrends lost theirs because they didn't pay the 'protection money' so to speak. I wonder, Does Kim Kardashian and Madonna pay for their marks? I bet not.
Now, if the mark costs $5000 a month to keep, that's $60,000 a year. The median household income in the United states is $51,939. That's for a household. A company could employ someone and they'd have a decent salary at $60,000 a year, and Twitter wants you to piss this away on online twitter ads. What's the ROI on Twitter ads? Wall Street Journal reported that advertisers questioned the ROI in April this year, as Twitter 'is still in the process of proving out return-on-investment'. Marketers aren't convinced that Twitter ads have an effect on their sales, and the "buy now" button that Twitter rolled out is not a gravy train for brands, and only moves the online store into Twitter's app. While it's possible this works well for online retailers, they used to just tweet their product links for free. We've known since 2011 that trending on twitter has the pricetag $120,000, which is twice the median household income in the US. With price-tags like this for "media" that is barely noticed by even the Twitter obsessed, it feels like we're paying for every Twitter employees' ludicrous San Francisco rent instead of investing in our marketing and our brands. Is that really a sensible way to use your budget?
Meanwhile at Huffington Post, an article headlined Thank You Twitter - By Unverifying Milo Yiannopoulos, You Are Standing Up for Women Online, explains that 'this is not a freedom of speech issue', and the internet has become 'a scary place to be a woman'. I'm not sure if the author is first day on the internet kid, but I've missed the memo that says I should hope to be saved from trolls by the male creators of an app instead of using the "mute" or "block" buttons already in place. Perhaps as a woman, my twenty years on the internet running this website has given me perspective.
Now, that "free speech" thing, many of my old Twitter friends have complained how they miss the friendly chatting of 2007, when jokes were had and strangers connected on the network. Most of us recall how Twitter as a tool was used to organise people during the Arab Spring in 2011, which scared the Egyptian government so much they blocked access to Facebook and Twitter, and finally the entire internet. (Adgeeks may recall how Vodaphone seemed to take credit for the revolution in an cringe-inducing case study award show clip.) The twitter network was used to spread news, start protests, keep people informed when national media did not, and to reach out to the rest of the world with citizen journalism on what was happening. The governments targeted certainly didn't like this speech - but that was free speech. And so is Milo's sarcastic jokes. Twitter isn't a townhall or town square though, it's a private corporation that can police the speech on their virtual property any way they see fit. The problem today is that we use digital squares, owned by corporations, as our town halls of yore, because that's how our social world has evolved.
Today Twitter is so eager to "counter abuse" it becomes abusive. Twitter is policing snarks and jokes reported to them, while leaving scores of false information posing as actual news floating around. According to Euromaiden Twitter’s new policy has been misused by pro-Kremlin accounts to block Ukrainian bloggers. CNN reports that Syrian jihadists are using Twitter to recruit foreign fighters. Photographs from past tragedies trend under the the hashtag of a current tragedy, serving as propaganda to those too naive to realize that not everything on Twitter is true. Trolls now catfish journalists on a daily basis for sport. By early 2014 the Toxic Twitter Wars of feminism was already crippling the previously open discussion and exchange of ideas in the women's movement.
What happened to change our "local pub" feeling we used to have at Twitter and turned it into a maelstrom of daily outrage storms? Was the tipping point in 2013 when Justine Sacco was bullied by a Gawker-led online mob? Is that when the friendly pub mass of people changed into digital hooligans?
Articles like this tend to end on ideas on how to remedy the situation, but I don't work for free, and have done enough weeding of spam accounts for Twitter since 2006 without even a blue checkmark in return. Now my tweets are filtered from view by Twitter, or blocked by crude filters less tech-savvy people are conned into using, so I don't even reach the followers I have carefully cultivated over a ten year period anymore. It's already bad enough that Twitter is increasingly like "rattling a stick in a swill bucket", and we don't know if anyone can hear us. But to make matters worse, we now know that Twitter can arbitrarily remove our checkmarks, filter our tweets and basically blackmail brands to waste money on Twitter ads. When tweeting emoji jokes sets off the permanently-offended-mob, Twitter is an increasingly unattractive place for brands to be.