Twitter is opening the blue checkmark to everyone. Starting July 2016, the company will let users request a verified account on its website by filling out a form with a verified phone number and email address, a profile photo, and additional information regarding why verification is required or helpful. In defining who will get approved, Twitter still says “an account may be verified if it is determined to be of public interest.” Prior to today, Twitter tended only to verify public figures, brands, and people in media, politics, sports, business, and other high-profile sectors.
“We want to make it even easier for people to find creators and influencers on Twitter so it makes sense for us to let people apply for verification,” said Tina Bhatnagar, Twitter’s vice president of user services, in a statement. “We hope opening up this application process results in more people finding great, high-quality accounts to follow, and for these creators and influencers to connect with a broader audience.”
[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Twitter favors real names and accurate profile photos when deciding who gets verified[/perfectpullquote]
It’s unclear why Twitter is opening the process to the public. The company says it has about 187,000 verified accounts, but around 310 million monthly active users. The disparity there, alongside increased pressure to provide anti-harassment tools, means more and more users may only be interacting with those who share their verification status. For instance, Twitter lets verified users filter their notifications to only show replies, mentions, or likes by other verified users. (The new Engage app offers some of those features to regular users as well.)
This is by design, as Twitter’s harassment problem as grown so bad that certain subsets of high-profile users on the platform have chosen not to subject themselves to the random attacks of strangers. Just yesterday, comedian and Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones was subjected to an extreme amount of racist remarks and hate speech from largely anonymous users, pushing her to call for better stronger Twitter guidelines. “We rely on people to report this type of behavior to us but we are continuing to invest heavily in improving our tools and enforcement systems to prevent this kind of abuse,” a Twitter spokesperson told BuzzFeed in response to Jones’ comments. “We realize we still have a lot of work in front of us before Twitter is where it should be on how we handle these issues.”
[perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Twitter may still only verify public figures[/perfectpullquote]
It’s still unclear if Twitter plans to verify everyday people who fill out the form, or stick with its previous practice of only granting it to public figures and industry users, like journalists. If a critical mass of users do opt for verification — and ultimately use their real name and photos — it could spell the end of the egg avatar, or at the very least could drastically reduce the visibility of anonymous users.
Although anonymity has been a hallmark feature of Twitter since its launch, the vitriolic nature of the user base has forced the company to make hard choices about its commitment to the philosophy. Still, many critics of Twitter’s policies say it still has not done enough. This change could be an opportunity for the company to present a choice to a majority of its users: shape up, or be left behind.