Verified accounts on Twitter and Google+ are supposed to build trust and allay your fears that you may be following an impostor. Facebook only announced this week that they were getting into the verified account game, but for different reasons -- they want to make it easier for you to find and subscribe to interesting people. Let's take a look at how the process works, and whether or not you have a chance of getting your accounts verified.
Verified users at Twitter have a blue badge with a check-mark inside next to their names. Twitter awards the badge as part of their beta verification program. It's not something a Twitter user can opt into or apply for. Being a verified user doesn't mean that the person who owns the Twitter account is actually behind the keys, however -- many prominent personalities on Twitter use ghostwriters and publicists behind their accounts. What the badge really means is that the tweets coming from that account are truly representative of the person who owns the account, even if they're authored by someone hired by that person.
While you can't just up and ask Twitter to verify your account, Twitter claims that they proactively verify accounts based on the prominence of the personality behind the account and how high the risk of identity confusion is for a specific person. That means that you don't necessarily have to be a famous celebrity or popular comedian to get a verified account at Twitter, but you do have to either have enough followers that someone could do damage to your professional or personal image by imitating you, or Twitter believes it's important that people reading you know that you are who you claim to be.
For the average user, this means that you can -- in most cases -- trust that a verified account is actually representative of the words, views, and opinions of person you want to follow.
In many ways, Google's process for verifying accounts is a bit mysterious. On the one hand, Google is clearly taking a page out of Twitter's book and attempting to give Google+ users the ability to see if someone they're following really is who they claim to be. Again, whether an account with a check-mark next to the name is actually manned by that person as opposed to a publicist or ghostwriter is another story. Even so, the process Google uses to verify an account is poorly understood and poorly communicated by Google (even after their initial announcement about the program) -- which leads some people to believe verified Google+ accounts are nothing more than a ruse.
Here's what we do know: Verified Google accounts are limited at this stage to people with high visibility, like celebrities, journalists, politicians, bloggers and other people who were on the bleeding edge when Google+ launched and now have a load of followers. You can't apply for one and there's currently no way to request you be verified. That said, not everyone you would expect to be verified is -- for example, our own Adam Pash has a verified account, but a friend of mine, the editor-in-chief of PC Mag, Dan Costa does not. One theory is that Google verifies an account for you when they have collected enough data about you and your account to know you're real. In any event, Google handles the process internally and without communication -- if your account is verified, you'll just log in one day and see the checkmark. Everyone I've spoken to with a verified account has said Google didn't contact them about it prior or after verifying them.
Facebook only yesterday announced that they would follow Twitter and Google+ and offer verified accounts to its users with lots of subscribers. In the same vein, they took a page from Google's book and stated that they would also allow pseudonyms for people with established nicknames that they do business or are otherwise well-known under.
Facebook's process is more transparent than the other two networks: they've said they plan to request copies of either a government-issued ID with a photo, or at least two other alternate IDs like a birth certificate and credit card in order to validate an identity. Like the other networks however, you have to be invited, and you can't apply or request you be able to verify your account -- at least not yet.
The only thing having a verified account at Facebook gets you is the ability to change your display name to something you may be better known as. For example, Dr Kiki Sanford, research scientists turned podcast/radio show host and educator, goes by "Dr Kiki" almost everywhere. With Facebook's new verification program, if she proved her identity, she could change her personal Facebook profile from her full legal name to "Dr Kiki" so people could find and subscribe to her updates more easily. Facebook noted they won't badge or otherwise put an icon on someone's profile to indicate their account has been verified.
The goal of Twitter and Google+'s verification programs is to ensure that the people you're following and reading are actually who they say they are -- or at least represent those real people. Facebook's program on the other hand is designed to give people the flexibility to use common names and pseudonyms instead of real names if they choose to. For the average user who can't participate in these programs, this means you can have a bit more faith that the person you're reading is the real deal, and on Facebook you'll be able to find personalities you want to subscribe to quickly, without having to know their legal names.
Do you pay attention to verified users on Twitter or Google+? Have you had difficulty finding a celebrity to subscribe to on Facebook because you weren't sure of their legal name? Do you think any of this actually offers additional credibility? Sound off in the comments below.