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STEM & Twitter: Verified Bias

Cher
Principle Engineer #javascript #crystal #js #vue #css #python #ruby #react #c #games #go #swift #ember
Updated on ・9 min read

Over the past few years, people have gotten louder and louder about Twitter's apparent bias in who they verify.

What's so important about verification?

Validation. Content on Twitter lives in an interesting juxtaposition in a state of simultaneous permanence and ephemerality. Tweeting may be fleeting, but the consequences can be lasting, and because of how quickly they churn, it is difficult to correct course. Adding the verified badge to that content is a way of validating that it can be trusted, or is the original source. It protects content creators from having their content plagiarized, by giving them the ability to reply to tweets using their work without their permission and credit themselves with reply priority. Similarly, this allows government officials, scientists, and other notable people to correct misinformation that could have reaching damage. And of course, it also protects people from being impersonated which helps combat all of those things.

You are also more likely to be considered, and paid better, by brand partners, publishers, and other work opportunities related to industry and content.

Support Priority. Notable people, and people with high engagement, get harassed on an untenable scale.

Sometimes the problem is volume of people doing the harassing. In 2018, I wrote an article revealing that I had been a part of a revenge porn hoarding scheme that went on for years a half a decade prior. It went viral, and made its way through gaming Reddit and 4chan. Eventually, some angry misogynist victim-blamers came to Twitter to harass me. I had been doxxed by this point, and people were impersonating me, posting nude photos of me they had obtained illegally, along with my name, address, and phone number. I was getting harassed from every angle, and three of these men came to my house. Twitter Support was not responsive. I had to file DMCA takedowns, which can't even be done via the report tool, but instead in a lengthy side process... which I had to file individually for each tweet.

Other times, it's targeted harassment, and again, Twitter Support is not responsive. For the last three months, I have been being harassed by a single individual who has created no less than 100 throw-away accounts with the sole intention of harassing me all day long.

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It took Twitter nearly a month to remove their suicide encouragement, despite multiple reports.

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What's worse is that Twitter responded to me, and multiple others, that it was not a violation of their rules.

When people get this kind of harassment, year over year, it's clear that they need better tools and care from the platform. Twitter has internal signals that can recognize when this is happening. If Social Blade can spot an account gaining popularity: so can Twitter. Special shout out to the Forem team for being so pro-active and personally caring when it comes to potential and actual harassment.

Notification Filtering. While this is probably the least important of all of these things: I had to uninstall the Twitter application from my phone the last time I went viral because it was causing it to crash and overheat. I ended up turning them off permanently, but even opening my notifications tab with notifications from accounts that don't follow me turned off, it's not manageable. I have to check my notifications multiple times a day to ensure I don't miss anything important. It would be nice to have a little more control.

Is it still biased?

Obviously, we couldn't possibly know that without thorough research into every single account that has been verified, but it seems the same issue that we've been vocal about for years is still being reflected in our community. Is it the process? Is it the people doing the approving and denying not having a clear enough set of rules and having some arbitrary discretionary control? I've seen at least three accounts that aren't government officials with less than a couple thousand followers get approved for what seems to be a mistake because of political title jargon in their bios.

I originally set out to call out all similar accounts that are being denied/approved, but I don't want to do that on a large scale unless someone has explicitly given me permission, because I don't want Twitter to go back and take away tools from someone who needs them.

I'll make this single comparison, and if others want to share what they've seen in the comments, or in this thread, it will help create data that can either prompt Twitter to tell us why accounts that look nearly identical to accounts they've approved, aside from the physical characteristics of those individuals, are being denied, or will show us a clear bias that can be reported on to change it. I'm hopeful the bias is just because I have a confirmation bias, but either way, the lack of transparency makes it more difficult to ignore those observations.

I was denied verified status on May 28, 2021, 5 days after I applied. At the time, I had more than three articles published using my name, or my tweets, or both. And they aren't nothing. I've been quoted in The Verge, CNN, Bloomberg, and many other smaller publications. It's not the first time, either. You can find my name in many publications, like Business Insider, PC Gamer, Newsweek, Kotaku, and more dating back into 2016 and beyond. I've been in numerous podcasts being interviewed over the last few years. Given talks internally, and externally, and, of course, I'm a published journalist and content creator myself, off of Twitter. I tweet frequently and actively, and have been since 2007, since 2008 on my current account. You can find me red linked in Wikipedia.

I have 31,000 followers. I'm in tech. Denied. Originally, I decided I didn't meet their follower threshold. As I watched some other tech accounts be verified with similar status to me, I have grown concerned that that is not the case. It feels like an arbitrary "you don't deserve it" that I cannot reconcile with what I'm seeing.

Joe Previte has been gracious enough to offer himself a comparison, as he, too, is perplexed as to how he was approved when I was not, with a similar follower count, in the same industry, and even less buzz and content to show than I have.

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Our growth comparison leads to even more questions into what internal metrics and signals Twitter is using to determine who meets their criteria, and who does not.

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And when it's easy to lean on follower counts, even knowing there are approvals that aren't entertainers, government officials, journalists, or athletes that get approved with similar follower counts -- there are those who are in the top 99.99th percentile in follower counts, like Kelly Vaughn with nearly 100k followers that got denied in the same cycle.

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If we sidestep into notability in tech, a quick look at Jen Simmons leaves us with even more questions. Jen has been on Wikipedia for years and has a Google Knowledge Panel. She's been quoted and written about by major news outlets, and is a published writer and speaker. She's responsible for coining several terms, including Twitter's own "Fail Whale". She's also a member of the CSS Working Group. She's also very active on Twitter, and has been since 2007.

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It took @cybernova years to finally get verified, despite having over 100,000 followers, and being a public figure both on and off the platform. I've watched white men in games with no official ties to organizations who create hardly any content with a couple thousand followers get approved over the last week (you can check @verified's following for this), while Cedric a public face for ARK: Survival Evolved with 60k+ followers was denied.

Why did Emma Bostian and Nithin Kamath have to have their decisions appealed, and worse, why did this have to be done by some unseen person waving a magic wand? How do the rest of us who feel, and Twitter as a community feels, need to be verified, get to appeal these decisions and some clarity around what criteria we aren't meeting, or what we did wrong in our applications?

I want to know why all these people (in addition to those mentioned above) aren't verified. In no particular order, and certainly not all inclusive:

This feels like a #VerifiedBias.

Update: I've pulled Pariss into her own section here because she was denied today, June 8, 2021. She is the creator of #BlackTechTwitter, one of the largest hashtag movements on Twitter in its entire history. She is a daily, very active user on Twitter and a CEO.

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Meanwhile, another hashtag creator, Isis Anchalee, whom I adore and admire and respect and deserves and needs to be verified, was approved. Isis is also a hashtag movement creator, #ILookLikeAnEngineer, but Isis is rarely active on Twitter. She also has fewer followers.

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What is going on here?!

Update 2: I've learned that this is happening in politics as well. Today, June 9, 2021, Holly McCormack, a democratic politician running for congress representing the state of Georgia was denied, despite having the proper link to her official candidacy page, and well over 100,000 followers.

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Her opponent, the incumbent Marjorie Taylor Greene was verified before running for office. This puts Holly at an additional disadvantage to running versus the incumbent.

Another man, with a couple hundred followers, who once ran and withdrew for governor of Connecticut, was verified this past week. I was going to grab a screenshot, but while I was writing this, Twitter changed /following to no longer display in chronological order. Interesting timing there... What is going on here?!

Discussion (28)

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inhuofficial profile image
InHuOfficial • Edited

Let’s hope you have more luck with the new verification application when it is fully rolled out.

It was designed by a woman (assumed gender based on name and profile picture) so if there were biases I would hope they would have squashed them.

Twitter staff is also 42% female, one of the highest ratios in our industry so yet again I doubt there is bias there in the first place (not discounting the possibility it just seems less likely at Twitter than elsewhere)

Obviously given the subjects you advocate for I would imagine (I haven’t checked) that you engage with more women so bear that in mind, yet again not saying you are not correct just an observation that you are far more likely to observe women getting denied than men due to your audience.

I want to be clear I am not saying it isn’t possible, just that of all places I would imagine Twitter would be least likely to have a bias as you suggest.

Hopefully, as I said, it was just bad timing. Perhaps wait a few weeks and try again, it looks like the new process is only in the midst of being rolled out so you may have been unlucky with your timing.

As for Twitters takedown process...yeah it is a bit of a joke, sadly you will have to keep protecting yourself there...it makes me think the “license to use the internet” that people joke about feels more and more like it needs implementing for those few obnoxious individuals who take joy in harassing others. It is disgusting and disturbing that when given anonymity how many people think they can say such things...

Anyway, I have my Fingers crossed you get verified soon, pretty sure you deserve it! 🤞❤️🦄

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cher profile image
Cher Author • Edited

I am locked from applying again until June 28, but without a reason as to why I was denied, simply applying again is unhelpful advice, as I'd likely use the same things I did before with the same result.

When no one is telling us hey, you qualify but you need to do x, y, z differently in your application, it makes sense. We're just left in the dark.

Twitter has far more verified male accounts than female. This bias existed already, and was addressed numerous times by Twitter. I don't think the criteria is biased: I worry it's the individuals approvers/deniers. But again, like I said in my post, I haven't done the proper research on this and it could just be confirmation bias and a bad, non-transparent process. I just want answers about the inconsistency.

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inhuofficial profile image
InHuOfficial • Edited

As with anything information is key, you not knowing why you weren’t verified is just stupid. You not being able to protect your personal information...more stupid...pretty sure it is easy to analyse a tweet for a phone number or an address and if it is flagged temporarily hide it while it is investigated...anyway I can’t fix the system!

As for reapplying I wasn’t suggesting just resubmitting, it would indeed be stupid to put the same information in (although it would be an interesting experiment to see if it gets through if someone else handles it!)

I obviously do not know if you used the new verification process or the old one but that was one reason I suggested a resubmission, I was also suggesting that you submitted at a point where hundreds were applying as a new process was being rolled out and so the odds of someone only skimming your info is higher. (So actually maybe I am suggesting just resubmitting the same info 😜).

I would imagine more men are verified (as I did not know that, is that across the board or just in tech?) due to all the other factors that you talk about, the bias in society of positions of power would obviously be reflected in the numbers.

Obviously I personally would say you should be easy to verify, but it is not something I know enough about to comment on what they are looking for.

Yet again something I am not educated enough on so I am hoping someone links to an interesting study in the comments, I was just positing that I would be more surprised at twitter being the cause of any bias rather than it being a reflection of society.

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cher profile image
Cher Author

I used the new one.

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fajarsiddiq profile image
Fajar Siddiq

I’m still figuring this out too, it might be the region

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cher profile image
Cher Author • Edited

Joe and I are both in the US, Isis and Pariss are also both US citizens (also, that wouldn't explain Kvlly, who is in the top .01% of accounts in the world)

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fajarsiddiq profile image
Fajar Siddiq

I spoke to Joe yesterday about this, yes i’m still wondering why Kelly is still not verified. I did read about trending on google or last 6 months on reputable news too. Is really tough on this one. I’m working to redesign my personal site and put some news source soon.

I wrote a tweet
twitter.com/fajarsiddiqfs/status/1...

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cher profile image
Cher Author

hmmm, yea, interesting to see that you are below the threshold. I was able to select that category (as was Joe and Kelly), so our follower count must meet their requirements. Sometimes is amiss.

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fajarsiddiq profile image
Fajar Siddiq

Yes must be either minimum follower count or minimum mention threshold in the region. Let’s not give up!

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cher profile image
Cher Author

There's not really anything I can do at this point. Applying again on June 28 I'd be applying with the same credentials. I have no reason to apply again unless they tell me why they denied me.

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fajarsiddiq profile image
Fajar Siddiq

I tried to apply as content creator but it didn’t meet meet the criteria. Did you try on influencer category? I guess you have submitted and now waiting for another try since they only allow every 30 days?

twitter.com/verified/status/140010...

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cher profile image
Cher Author

I did a different influencer category, because I have news mentions, but I could have also done the content creator category. None of them were blocked.

Yes, they only allow every 30 days.

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fajarsiddiq profile image
Fajar Siddiq

Let’s hope! I Just RT your tweet to get some awareness about this. Hopefully twitter do something about this

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inhuofficial profile image
InHuOfficial • Edited

Just a super quick one that may help with this (after finally getting round to checking out your website) if you used the website verification option for the "Authentic" part of the process.

I noticed that if the screen is a certain width or height (can't quite tell what it is that causes it at a quick glance) all of the links and content can disappear (tested in Chrome) (and at 4k the "cher" text doesn't show either just a few white boxes which I assume are to do with the static effect).

Possibly one of the things that may have stopped verification is that it doesn't reference you if you can't get to the press pages etc.

As I said in other comments I am no expert at the verification process and possibly not the cause but I thought I would let you know just in case (plus you would probably want to know anyway so it can be fixed).

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cher profile image
Cher Author • Edited

I didn't use my website, I used the mentions of me in the news (direct links)

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inhuofficial profile image
InHuOfficial

Fair enough, was just a thought and I thought you might want to know anyway.

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cher profile image
Cher Author

Yea, I know I need to update it, I've just honestly not had the bandwidth cries

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inhuofficial profile image
InHuOfficial

I think every single one of us knows that feeling - even when you do have the capacity it is one of those “I will just do this first” jobs! ❤️

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patricknelson profile image
Patrick Nelson

What surprised me: I really wanted to take a look at #ILookLikeAnEngineer. This was the first time I read about this, and, after clicking... it returned no results. At the time, there were only 2 results under "Latest". Was this the case for you back when you originally wrote this article?

Is it possibly because it's just not trending anymore and hardly anyone posts about it? I know it's a sort of old trend, but having zero results really surprised me. I could at least find some results after googling site:twitter.com inurl:status ilooklikeanengineer. Filtering for the past month still returns some results (but not many, at least if you remove the inurl filter).

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cher profile image
Cher Author

It was definitely working when I posted this

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patricknelson profile image
Patrick Nelson

Guess it was a temporary blip. Now it's back with tons of posts. 😅

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techielass profile image
Sarah Lean 🏴󠁧󠁢

Interesting piece! I definitely think something is going on with Twitter verification process as there are other examples of great women not getting it while male counterparts do.

There is a massive bias in tech towards males generally. It's messed up for sure.

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jcolag profile image
John Colagioia (he/him)

It's apparently not just "normal people." Emerging politicians are also getting rejected, despite there being a strict procedure in place where they qualify.

I've seen it mentioned in passing that organizations have significantly more clout in applications than individuals. Like, if a publisher says that you work for them and would like you verified, that's magically more important than any criteria on the application. As we've seen in many other fields, "we're just relying on existing institutional recognition" is just a proxy for more traditional bias.

That said, I have something like two hundred followers and no interest in being verified, so I only know it in the abstract.

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cher profile image
Cher Author

Is this still happening? This article pre-dates the verification process opening up, which was to a very limited group on May 22, with a larger roll-out on May 24, and another a few days ago.

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jcolag profile image
John Colagioia (he/him)

That's a really good question. Searching around, it looks like (mainstream) people just stop talking about verification after that, and are replaced by "how to get verified, now" listicles that amount to "kiss up as much as possible," then admit that nobody actually knows the new rules.

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syntaxseed profile image
SyntaxSeed (Sherri W)

I always assumed - apparently incorrectly - that it was essentially as simple as once you get near or past 100K followers and you sent in some documentation to ID yourself to Twitter, you'd get verified. Apparently this is not the case.

Does it seem like mostly women getting overlooked?

I honestly wish Twitter would drop the mysteriousness of this. Just make it a flat rule set: reach X followers that are extra-checked to not be bots... send in some ID and maybe a 'processing fee' to slow down bots... and then you are verified and get some extra support. Why does it have to be so subjective? Ug.

I'd also drop the verified checkbox and just make it an invisible thing that gets those people the support and features they need from Twitter, but not a popularity badge. If it's to stop impersonation then just put a line that says their real name or something.

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cher profile image
Cher Author

Honestly without real data (which I think some folks are looking into now), it's hard to know where the bias is.

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