What Twitter's New Blue Verified Badge Can Teach Us About Trust

Image of Scott Baradell
Scott Baradell
Published: Dec 8, 2020

A verified badge on social media has long been one of the most sought-after trust signals on the internet. Having that little blue checkmark next to your name or brand tells the world you’re established in your field, whether that’s business, government, sports, journalism, or entertainment.

Social media sites have often been less than transparent about what makes an account eligible for one of these trust badges -- until now. On November 24, Twitter unveiled what it called a "draft" of its new verification policy, outlining the criteria for obtaining a badge on the platform.

Twitter had discontinued verifying accounts in 2017 after critics called their process arbitrary and confusing. With the new, more detailed policy,  Twitter plans to begin handing out checkmarks again soon.

Whether the new verification policy will boost Twitter's credibility or cause more headaches is TBD, but I’ll give you a summary and explain what these changes teach us about trust.

Requirements for a Twitter Trust Badge

Twitter calls accounts it deems eligible for verification "Notable Accounts." It has identified six categories of accounts, each one with different criteria for notability:

  • Government — the account must be referenced/linked to on an official site or publication, or the person/entity should be referenced multiple times in the news.
  • Companies/brands/non-profits — the account must be mentioned in public indices/databases, be referenced at least three times in the news over the last six months and/or be among the most-followed accounts in its country.
  • News — independent journalists need three bylines/credits in qualifying publications; news entities must adhere to professional standards.
  • Entertainment — entities must have a website with a link to the profile; individuals must have five production credits on IMDB and three references in the news.
  • Sports — should be listed on official team websites or compete in global competitions; amateur and minor league athletes are generally not eligible. 
  • Activists/organizers/influential individuals — more complicated criteria, but should be among the top active Twitter accounts and/or demonstrate notability outside of Twitter.

Can Your Brand Get a Twitter Trust Badge?

Let's dive a bit deeper into how a business can earn a blue checkmark. Both company and product brands can qualify for verification if Twitter deems them "prominent."

To qualify as prominent, brands must meet two of the following three requirements:

  1. Presence in public indices, including but not limited to Google Trends, public stock exchanges, Wikipedia and/or databases such as Charity Navigator;
  2. Three or more featured references in the previous six months in media outlets that meet Twitter's criteria for news organizations, including newspapers, magazines, TV and digital outlets that adhere to journalism standards such as those laid out by the Society of Professional Journalists;
  3. Follower count in the top 0.1 percent of active accounts located in the same country.

For all but the biggest brands, achieving a follower count in the top 0.1 percent of accounts would be a tall order. So the easier path for private companies is to achieve notability through third-party validation in the news media and through sources such as Wikipedia (which also uses news coverage to determine notability). Public companies, from those in the Dow Jones index to small caps on the Nasdaq, would seem to be shoo-ins.

Denying and Removing Checkmarks

Twitter also released a list of accounts that won’t be eligible for verification, even if they are popular or meet other criteria for verification:

  • Pet and fictional character accounts (unless they have a proven affiliation with a firm or production company)
  • Parody accounts
  • Commentary accounts
  • Fan accounts
  • Accounts that violate spam policy (e.g., buying followers)
  • Accounts/groups/individuals that produce hateful content or participate in harmful activities

Additionally, Twitter said certain verified accounts will likely lose their blue checkmarks. This includes accounts whose tweets are deemed hateful or abusive, as well those that are  inactive, incomplete or lack security information. 

Criticism of Twitter's New Trust Badge Policy

Naturally, not everyone is happy with the new policy.  Like much of the criticism directed at Twitter lately, many of the concerns have to do with free speech, political bias and how Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey might tilt the verification policy to favor some people, organizations and opinions over others.

Specifically, many conservatives believe they might be held in violation of Twitter's "civic integrity" or abusive behavior policies and denied verification on that basis.  Another worry is that, if Twitter only awards blue checkmarks to accounts it approves of, it could end up creating a hierarchy where only certain opinions are given prominence and taken seriously.

Twitter -- which has gotten bashed for awarding checkmarks to white supremacists and other controversial figures in the past-- is stuck between a rock and hard place on this one. But Dorsey ultimately determined that his platform had too much power and influence to sustain a laissez-faire policy on posted content.

What Twitter's Trust Badge Policy Tells Us About Trust

Whether or not you have or wish to seek out a blue checkmark for your brand, Twitter's verification requirements illustrate the continuing importance of third-party validation -- particularly news media coverage from recognized and respected outlets -- to building market trust.

With the fragmentation of news distribution and decline of mainstream media over the past two decades, established news organizations are no longer the ultimate gatekeepers they once were. But when it comes to verifying the notability of people and businesses, they are still the closest thing we have to true north.

Oh, and read this if you're wondering why Twitter's verification badge is blue.

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