The First Lady of the United States of America, Michelle Obama, joined Twitter today. When I followed her she had tweeted only twice and had just over 20,000 followers. As I write, she has added another tweet and has over 111,000 followers.
But is it really the First Lady?
The account description says that it is being updated by the #obama2012 campaign team, but also notes that some of the updates will really be from Obama herself - denoted by a 'MO' tag, leading me to wonder if those are just her initials, or if her name within the campaign team really is just MO?
The account also features the blue tick mark of an authenticated account, the badge used by Twitter to show that they have verified the account of a celebrity user. But the people at Twitter have still not explained how they recently awarded the same blue tick to Wendi Deng, wife of News International tycoon, Rupert Murdoch.
Deng's account was even verified by News International, but was soon declared a fake. The person behind the account has yet to be unmasked, even with the media of the world no doubt sending endless messages to him or her promising the chance to tell 'their side of the story'.
Twitter has refused to comment on their verification process. Many in the technology industry have said that this is because there is no real verification process, just a few cursory checks to see if the official website of the celebrity links to that Twitter account. In fact, Twitter's advice to celebrities is generally to just link from a main website to Twitter - that should be enough proof.
But the public have learned to trust the verification tick. The faith in this badge works for the artists and celebrities, because they can run their official account and ignore pretenders as obviously fake, and for the public, because they know the person they are interacting with is really who they say they are.
As Twitter grew in popularity in the UK, the TV presenter Jonathan Ross acted as an unofficial identity checker, because he knows so many celebrities personally, but as the network grew it became impossible for him to check everyone - and why should he anyway when Twitter should really have a verification programme that works?
There are many genuine artists and celebrities that don't have the blue verification badge on their Twitter account because Twitter does not have a real identity verification programme. Many artists ask for the tick only to be told that the verification system has been officially closed - yet for big enough names, like the First Lady, it is still used - so the blue tick clearly retains some value.
Twitter is applying identity verification in a random and haphazard way. This is now beginning to threaten the trust that people have in the network. The executives at Google must be laughing into their freshly squeezed orange juice as Twitter squirms over such a relatively simple problem.
One of my favourite artists, Elvis Costello, still has no verification tick on his Twitter profile despite featuring links to his Twitter account on his official blog and Facebook. How come there is one rule for the King of America and another for the First Lady?
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