Summary: Elon has started a monthly $8 fee for verified twitter users. A verifiable credential-based solution would be a better way to increase trust in the platform by authenticating users as real people without attendent privacy concerns.
This thread from Matthew Yglesias concerning Twitter's decision to charge for the blue verification checkmark got me thinking. Matthew makes some good points:
Pseudonymity has value and offers protection to people who might not otherwise feel free to post if Twitter required real names like Facebook tries to.
Verification tells the reader that the account is run by a person
There's value to readers in knowing the real name and professional affiliation of some accounts
Importantly, the primary value accrues to the reader, not the tweeter. So, charging the tweeter $20/month (now $8) is charging the wrong party. In fact, more than the reader, the platform itself realizes the most value from verification because it can make the platform more trustworthy. Twitter will make more money if the verification system can help people understand the provenance of tweets because ads will become more valuable.
Since no one asked me, I thought I'd offer a suggestion on how to do this right. You won't be surprised that my solution uses verifiable credentials.
First, Twitter needs to make being verified worthwhile to the largest number of users possible. Maybe that means that tweets from unverified accounts are delayed or limited in some way. There are lots of options and some A/B testing would probably show what incentives work best.
Second, pick a handful (five springs to mind) of initial credential issuers that Twitter will trust and define the credential schema they'd prefer. Companies like Onfido can already do this. It wouldn't be hard for others like Equifax, ID.me, and GLEIF to issue credentials based on the "real person" or "real company" verifications they're already doing. These credential issuers could charge whatever the market would bear. Twitter might get some of this money.
Last, Twitter allows anyone with a "real person" credential from one of these credential issuers to verify their profile. The base verification would be for the holder to use zero-knowledge proof to prove they are a person or legal entity. If they choose, the credential holder might want to prove their real name and professional affiliation, but that wouldn't be required. Verifying these credentials as part of the Twitter profile would be relatively easy for Twitter to implement.
Twitter would have to decide what to do about accounts that are not real people or legal entities. Some of these bots have value. Maybe there's a separate verification process for these that requires that the holder of the bot account prove who they are to Twitter so they can be held responsible for their bot's behavior.
You might be worried that the verified person would sell their verification or verify multiple accounts. There are a number of ways to mitigate this. I explained some of this in Transferable Accounts Putting Passengers at Risk.
Real person verification using verifiable credentials has a number of advantages.
First, Twitter never knows anyone's real name unless that person chooses to reveal it. This means that Twitter can't be forced to reveal it to someone else. They just know they're a real person. This saves Twitter from being put in that position and building infrastructure and teams to deal with it. Yes, the police, for example, could determine who issued the Twitter Real Person credential and subpoena them, but that's the business these companies are in, so presumably they already have processes for doing this.
Another nice perk from this is that Twitter jump starts an ecosystem for real person credentials that might have uses somewhere else. This has the side benefit of making fraud less likely since the more a person relies on a credential the less likely they are to use it for fraudulent purposes.
A big advantage is that Twitter can now give people peace of mind that they accounts they're following are controlled by real people. Tools might let people adjust their feed accordingly so they see more tweets by real people.
Twitter also can give advertisers comfort that their engagement numbers are closer to reality. Twitter makes more money.
Charging power users for features that most people don’t need or want makes perfect sense.
But verification isn’t a power user feature, it’s a terrible implementation of what’s supposed to be a feature for the everyday user. It should help newbies figure out what’s going on.
Verifiable credentials can help make Twitter a more trustworthy place by providing authentic data about people and companies creating accounts—and do it better than Twitter's current system. I'm pretty sure Twitter won't. Elon seems adamant that they are going to charge to get the blue checkmark. But, I can dream.
Bonus Link: John Bull's Twitter thread on Trust Thermoclines
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