Verified Microblogging Insurance for Microcelebs

The microblogging site Twitter recently announced that in response to some controversy related to fake celebrity accounts, it would soon offer a verification process for, “a small set of public officials, public agencies, famous artists, athletes, and other celebs who run the risk of impersonation.”  According to TechCrunch, such accounts would have a verification seal readily visible.

What is a public official?  What is a ‘famous’ artist?  What is a celeb that runs the risk of impersonation?  I can only raise these issues today, not answer them.  But I think that these questions will become increasingly important during the next year.  It might seem silly to debate whether or not a police chief in a medium sized city is a public official, or whether a painter having his first gallery opening is famous, but when publications like Gawker mine Twitter for interesting stories, and a fake microblogging account publishing something false or harmful in someone’s name is permanent, archivable, searchable, discoverable, sharable, and mashupable, fake accounts can mean real damage for relatively normal microcelebrities without lawyers and public relations teams on retainer.

One area in which this is sure to come into play is politics.  I forsee this as an incredibly interesting area of technology intersecting society in somewhat unpredictable ways.  Many people know that then-candidate Barack Obama used new media tools in order to mobilize people and raise an unprecedented amount of money.  But emerging social technologies have changed the poli/tech landscape in the last six months, and will change it more in the next six.  One thing we haven’t yet fully seen is how the strategy of using negative ads in a regulated mainstream media market  translates into a strategy of negative messaging in a relatively unregulated social media market. This is a topic I plan to write about more in the months to come.

On the other hand, social media sites like Twitter are sure to be close to completely useless in many political races.  While ‘trade’ publication The Hill tracks the tweets of over 100 members of Congress (not unlike Gawker tracks the Twitterati) and political social media consultants like David All offer advice on how to use it to jump start campaigns, there are many situations in which it’s so close to a waste of time as to be worthless.  I recently spoke with the mayor of a small city of about 9,000 people, who told me that she wouldn’t find these tools useful for communicating with her constituents; to paraphrase her, “Why would I use Twitter when I can visit nearly everyone’s house?”  She may be right, or wrong – I don’t know.  While outside the scope of this article, some of the factors determining whether social media tools will be useful in a given campaign are the odd demographics and usage of Twitter itself, the density of people in the campaign area, the socioeconomic status of voters, and so forth.  Nevertheless, someone like the aforementioned mayor may still want a verified account – as a form of impersonation insurance.

A while back, I wrote about the use of social media by Adriel Hampton, current candidate for a vacant CA seat in the House of Representatives.  He has a few thousand followers on Twitter, a decently-read blog, and is getting some very modest but important print media coverage – is he a “celebrity running the risk of impersonation” in the eyes of Twitter?  For his sake, and Twitter’s, I hope so.  Otherwise, the information warfare between incumbents and challengers (the have’s and have-not’s of verified celebrity) could have damaging consequences far beyond what sponsored conversations may bring.

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This post was written by:

Mark Drapeau - who has written 225 posts on Dr. Mark D. Drapeau.

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4 Comments For This Post

  1. Andy Oram Says:

    Impersonation is a serious concern, and your comments are quite useful. The tension between verifying identity and allowing unfettered Internet access goes back to the first spam messages–and even further, to Usenet news. One good journalistic investigation (obviously politically slanted, as shown by its publication in The Nation and its title, “The New Right-Wing Smear Machine”) is here:

    But we don’t want people to have to present a birth certificate or credit card before signing up for an email account, and I don’t believe we want to force that for Twitter either. Kicking someone off for impersonating a famous person forces a service to go through the same verification process, but on the famous person instead of the individual signing up.

  2. Ernesto Says:

    Meh.. I think Evan Williams just wants to hang out with celebrities… you know “verify” them.

    This will likely cause Twitter some trouble.

  3. Adriel Hampton Says:

    I do think it is high time for Twitter to offer this service, and also to do a much better job enforcing the TOS. I blogged about this topic a while back – – in terms of a money-making strategy.
    For those of us active on Twitter, impersonation isn’t really a terrible threat (I know you’ve got a mock account after you, imitation being the best form of flattery). However, for many public officials, it is, and that will only increase if Twitter retains its popularity and relevance. In one example, for a number of months, the Deval Patrick account was run by an anti-Patrick blogger (I am happy to see that today it has been suspended).

  4. Karen S. Says:

    I really enjoyed this post. I will definitely check back later for more informative posts from you. Thanks!

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