Somehow, even after we all sounded the alarm bells, Twitter continues to truck on. It’s certainly diminished, with many people having left and somehow the advertising getting worse. Today had the potential to be another death knell: the website was going to do away with its verification system. The only way to get a blue checkmark — the erstwhile symbol that this user had verified their identity with the website — would be to pay for it. People and groups from LeBron James to the New York Times to the White House itself publicly said they wouldn’t pay for it and, last night, we seemed poised to self-combust into a wild world where there was no way to know if the tweeter was the real deal.
And then it didn’t.
Oh, don’t worry, Twitter’s still going to self-combust. But those ‘legacy checkmarks’ that were supposed to go away today didn’t — everyone who used to be supposed to have one still has one. It seems the changes haven’t hit yet and the website waits in limbo for someone to create the account @WH173H0U53, pay $8, and start tweeting as if they’re the mouthpiece of the US Government.
In a way, it’s back to the old, semi-mythical Wild West of the internet where there was no way to know if anyone was really who they claimed to be and anyone could be a dog. Except this time the internet has gone mainstream, everyone’s on it, everyone uses it, everything uses it. Twitter has, for better and worse, established itself as a reliable source of news with reliable sources. Once those Verified Checkmarks are well and truly gone, then so too goes its reliability.
It’s important to see this in the context of the age of misinformation we live in. The term ‘fake news’ was popularized by a wannabe fascist to ward off any claims that he was lying. A member of his team would use ‘alternative facts’ to describe a reality that did not align with what they were peddling. Meanwhile, propaganda and disinformation run rampant, disguised as actual news sources. If you don’t like the reality presented to you, you can find someone on the internet who affirms what you want to believe. Removing Twitter’s verification system isn’t just pushing things back to where you can’t trust what you read online, it’s taking away one of the feel ways to know if something, or someone, was true.