Twitter's safety chief suggests additional "identity verification" may be required later on beyond paid verification

Twitter’s head of safety and integrity Joel Roth admitted Twitter thread that the company may need to invest further in “identity verification” that goes beyond the paid verification system that will accompany its renewed Twitter Blue subscription. Under Elon Musk, Twitter has been quick to launch a a new version of your Twitter Blue subscription whose key selling point will be the ability to purchase a verification badge by paying $7.99 per month. This change aims to make Twitter verification more accessible to users who previously couldn’t be verified under Twitter’s old system, which only awarded the coveted blue-and-white badge to public figures, celebrities, politicians, journalists and other high-profile profile persons.

Twitter’s previous system verified who received the tag through an internal process that would verify that the person is who they say they are, so other Twitter users can be sure of that public figure’s identity.

Now it seems Twitter is realizing that real identity verification — the kind that can’t be bought for $8 — actually has its benefits. But it’s unclear where Twitter will draw the line in terms of who will require their identity to be further verified, or how that will be achieved.

In a thread where Roth attempted to explain Twitter’s various policies regarding parody (which is allowed) and impersonation (which is not), he also detailed how the company would handle a situation where a number of verified blue badge accounts are involved in impersonation. This prompted him to share his thoughts on ID verification on Twitter as well.

The thread came up because large-scale impersonation is something that recently happened to Elon Musk himself. This week, a number of verified celebrities assigned Musk’s screen name and profile picture to troll him. Musk responded with announcement banning any accounts impersonating someone else and even launching one of the impersonators – comedian Kathy Griffin – off Twitter entirely. (She later returned to the platform using his late mother’s Twitter account.)

Roth said that going forward, Twitter will deal with impersonation by verified users as it has done in the past — this will stop those accounts engaging in the practice.

However, when the new Twitter Blue subscription goes public, impersonation may become more difficult to enforce if there is an increase in verified users for Twitter to monitor. To address this, Roth said Twitter will “increase proactive review of Blue Verified accounts that show signs of impersonating another user” and then suspend them if found. He also urged Twitter users to also report accounts involved in impersonation.

Of course, Roth’s Trust & Safety team has seen layoffs since Musk’s takeover of Twitter, potentially making such enforcement a challenge. While the CEO claimed his team only saw 15% cuts, compared to 50% cuts for Twitter as a whole, it’s clear that many teams that played vital roles around misinformation management on the service were affected — including those concerned with the integrity of elections and public policy. It’s unclear how well understaffed teams could do if a large number of users decide to engage in impersonation after being confirmed.

Due to the potential for abuse, Twitter has decided to delay the release of the revamped Twitter Blue system until after the US midterm elections on Tuesday. New York Times announced this weekend, and Roth did now confirmed.

What’s more, Roth seems to acknowledge that simply asking users to pay for their blue badge isn’t a very robust form of identity verification, and that Twitter may need to do more in this area in the future. (You know…like it used to be, when verification meant more than “I have $8!”).

Roth explained that Twitter’s older system made verification both a signal of authenticity (you are who you say you are) and a landmark, meaning you’re important in some way. The executive said he favors doing away with notoriety and instead focusing on “proof of humanity” — something the $8 paid subscription feed can help with, as it can weed out spammers and bad actors who don’t want to pay or to pass fraud checks related to in-app purchases in major app stores.

However, Roth hinted that paid verification alone cannot work for complete identity verification, suggesting that Twitter will need to do more work on this front in the future.

“In the long term, I think we need to invest more in identity verification as a supplement to proof of humanity,” Roth wrote. “Paid verification is a strong (not perfect) signal of humanity that helps fight bots and spam. But it is not the same as identity verification,” he said.

Roth didn’t go into more detail about what Twitter might need to do differently beyond paid verification through Blue to perform identity verification.

However, his statement raises questions about what Twitter might be referring to here.

Today, a number of social networks have started using facial recognition and AI to verify their users, which raised privacy concerns. Instagram, for example, uses AI to scan happy birthday posts. to see if the child may have lied about their age when enrolling. Yubo asks all users of its platform to verify your age with a face scan. Although these methods are aimed at ensuring that minors have not lied about their age on the platform, they can be used for other purposes. Video, in particular, is useful for identity verification – even Amazon used to verify third-party sellers via video to help fight fraud at one point.

In other cases, social networks have asked users to send a copy of their government ID to prove their identity – Facebook does thisin some situations, such as when you lose access to your account.

The advantage of Twitter historically is that anyone can create an account and does not need to use their real name or identity when doing so. This has helped activists and organizers stay protected when tweeting critical information and helps people under authoritarian regimes to communicate. This is why Twitter was able to play a role during the Arab Spring protests of 2010 and 2012, for example.

On the other hand, the lack of identity can also allow for other unique advantages – such as parody accounts where people never know the poster’s true identity, but have fun guessing.

Previously, if you wanted a blue badge, you also chose to have your identity verified. Now that the blue badge is just something you can buy, it no longer fully works for identity verification. That’s what Roth now admits.

But if Twitter intends to invest in “identity verification” for all its users at some point down the line, it would interfere with the fundamental nature of the platform and the ability of users to be anonymous – without being considered a spammer.

Whether Twitter will end up relying on technology, manual vetting via a team (as before), or both remains to be seen. But it’s an area that requires continued attention as Twitter moves forward into the Musk era.

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