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Twitter’s Verification Rejection Leaves Me And Other Journalists Totally Confused.

Twitter’s verification process and the coveted blue check mark has been around for nearly a decade and is often used to discern whether an account was worthy of being followed or not. After coming under intense scrutiny when several accounts which violated the rules of engagement were still being verified, the program was suspended indefinitely in November 2017,

After three and a half years though, Twitter finally opened up its revamped verification process to selected members of the public (including me) in May this year, with all users being able to apply “over the next few weeks”.

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As part of the new procedures Twitter claims all requests are handled by humans and not automated, to attempt to reduce errors in requests.

The blue check mark beside one’s name signifies different things to different people. In the case of companies and government accounts it gives users confidence they’re speaking to the right people. In the bloggers and influencers camp it is a sign that they’ve reached a critical mass and is often a good indicator of their weight and marketability.

Like many other bloggers-cum-journalists I have two Twitter accounts: @PTBMade which is in the name of my travel blog Points to be Made; and @TimLaiOfficial which is in my name personally. I had debated whether to use the word “official” in the handle as I’ll be the first to admit I’m hardly worthy of such an aggrandized handle, but having so many other namesakes around the world, including the title to a Vietnamese rock song, my choice of suffixes was remarkably limited.

The guidelines for journalists is quite clear cut, yet I am ashamed to admit to have succumbed to digital pressure and that my already-fragile ego was duly deflated when I received notification that Twitter had denied my verification.

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But you don’t have that many followers!

That’s true. I am certainly orders of magnitude behind household names, and the thought of having several thousands of people follow me actually frightens me. Yet here I am having a fanboy moment finding out that the President of Estonia tweeted out one of my articles.

Yet I have personally seen verified accounts with single digit followers and zero posts, usually being subsidiaries of companies broadening their horizons. Similar articles have attempted to fish out low follower verified accounts in the past.

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In Twitter’s own words, the verification is solely a proof of identity in the category you claim to be and in the case of journalists it claims to completely ignore follower count. This was further confirmed in a Twitter Spaces event earlier this month.

Also of note for others seeking verification was the rather simplistic statement that if you are writing for a Verified media outlet, then that’s enough to be classed as “Notable” for the puposes of the application, and likewise if the outlet is not verified then you won’t too.

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Are Forbes Contributors actually journalists?

Good question, yes and no — we are a diverse bunch. Admittedly I’m at the fringes of what traditional journalism would entail, though Twitter does offer two clues to what they consider journalists:

“1) News organizations and journalists: Any official accounts of qualifying news organizations, as well individual accounts of journalists employed by Verified news organizations may be Verified, if:

  • … individual accounts of journalists must provide a link to their affiliated news organization’s website that references their work, i.e. an about page or bio,* and 

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… Qualifying organizations include newspapers; magazines; … digital news publishers; … and must adhere to recognized professional standards for journalism such as those laid out by… International Federation of Journalists

2) Independent or freelance journalists may be Verified if they can provide at least 3 bylines/credits in Verified publications published within the 6 months prior to applying.”

The veracity of my claim to journalism was put to the test when four years ago I applied to join the National Union of Journalists and the aforementioned International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). To my own surprise I was accepted, and now as a full, paying member I abide by their Code of Conduct in everything I write.

As someone who (until the pandemic began) frequently requests for photographic credentials in airports, aircraft and other high-security areas around the world my request for the Press Cards were justifiably approved. As Twitter stated IFJ as one of their criteria, I felt like it was going to be straightforward.

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Providing three bylines should have been easy and the application form within the app actually gives the option to add more. I think I put around seven. My Forbes feed has several articles written within the last six months, so it was a case of adding any of those from January onwards. And over on my blog, which itself is part of the BoardingArea network (and verified on Twitter)

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To be honest, having followed the criteria for journalists exactly as stated, and being a Forbes Contributor I thought I would have a strong claim. Forbes’ main account and Forbes Europe have nearly 17 million followers combined.

Though it was not to be. I see many other Forbes Contributors verified so I am left none the wiser as to why my request was turned down, especially as my notification came after Twitter themselves promised to give more detailed feedback for rejections.

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The email sent to me was totally useless and nondescript.

My only suspicion is lack of followers, but as stated previously, this did not appear to stop others succeeding with their requests.

What next?

Thirty days must elapse until I can apply again although having followed their criteria exactly as stated, it seems like a tall order for them to be swayed.

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I am not alone in my confusion though. There are countless other journalists, likely with stronger claims than me, both freelance and in-house who are getting rejected. though given the lack of transparency into how these get decided, it still feels like a lottery. Well done if you do get that blue check mark!

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