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January 31, 2022updated 30 Sep 2022 10:59am

Journalists say Twitter blue tick verification process ‘irrational and opaque’

By Charlotte Tobitt

Freelance journalists are “frustrated” at the Twitter verification process which has left even well-established writers with large followings feeling like “second-class citizens”.

Twitter began rolling out its new verification system last summer, with journalists among those encouraged to apply for blue ticks on their profiles to allow the public to see that they are trustworthy sources of information.

But not everyone feels the rollout has been successful or fair and almost 80 freelance journalists have now added their names to a list of those who feel their applications have wrongly been rejected. Some staff journalists who have struggled to get a blue tick also feel Twitter’s policies have been applied inconsistently.

Lily Canter (pictured, right) and Emma Wilkinson (left), who run the Freelancing For Journalists podcast and Facebook group, have led the charge but are not yet satisfied with any answers they have seen given by Twitter.

Both have been working as journalists for around 20 years and have similar-sized Twitter followings. But although Canter was verified on her second attempt, Wilkinson has not yet been given a blue tick after four applications.

Wilkinson, who specialises in health and medicine and frequently writes for specialist publications such as The BMJ, Lancet and Pulse, told Press Gazette: “Especially working in health journalism, the only thing that really annoys me is you see so much misinformation on Twitter, just so much, and you think hang on a minute – I’m doing really well researched in-depth, proper journalism, award-winning journalism that’s being published in really eminent publications and it would be nice if people would just immediately see that blue tick and trust that that’s what it is.”

She added that Twitter is the social platform where many figures in the medical field speak to each other and to journalists, but that being without a blue tick when staff journalists at the publications she works for have them makes her feel like a “second class citizen, like I’m not actually doing this job, like I’m just pretending at it”.

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Wilkinson said: “I also use it a lot to find contacts, find stories, have conversations with people and I think that’s part of the reason why I’ve kept trying to chip away at this because I feel like the staff journalists who do the same job as me and working in that same space are verified and I somehow look second rate to that so it’s frustrating when that’s the platform through which you do a lot of your work and find a lot of your contacts.”

She noted that Twitter has a separate category for freelance journalists in the verification process so they “obviously believe this is a category that is important for verifying” for reasons of tackling misinformation and trust in news sources. “And yet, there is a massive flaw in how your system is working.”

Twitter says to be approved freelance journalists must have an active account provide three articles crediting them as the author from a verified news organisation within the past six months, as well as a photo of their Government-issued ID

They are also told it will help if verified websites or news articles reference their Twitter handle or registered email address – although many news outlets do not have this in their style for freelances.

Wilkinson has on more than one occasion been rejected because she was not “notable” enough. She said: “They want more proof that I’m notable but there’s no way – you can’t mention awards that you’ve won or anything else to do with your experience other than the articles that you’ve written.”

Canter, who writes money, health and lifestyle news and features for many specialist and national newspaper titles, said she was frustrated that the inconsistent approach made the whole concept seem arbitrary and called the system “irrational and opaque”.

She also questioned why some younger and more junior journalists had been verified while longer-established ones had not, and suggested Twitter may have a poorly functioning algorithm making the decisions rather than real people.

Asked why getting the blue tick was worth it, she said: “I do feel slightly more confident in some ways maybe even if it’s subconsciously. Sometimes I write stuff that might be slightly more edgy or a bit more controversial and I think on those slightly more difficult topics, I do feel a bit like people take me a bit more seriously because I’ve got that tick.

“But if anything, it’s more pride than anything else if I’m completely honest. It doesn’t make any difference to the amount of work I get or who will speak to me but I just feel like well, I am a genuine journalist so Twitter should recognise that.”

One of the freelance journalists, mostly from the UK but also the US, Germany and India, to sign the list was Georgina Fuller, who has been a journalist for more than 18 years and freelance writing for national newspapers and magazines for more than 12. She told Press Gazette she has twice applied to be verified on Twitter and been “resoundingly rejected even though I meet the basic criteria of having bylines in recognised media outlets in the last six months”.

Fuller said: “The battle over blue ticks and Twitter verification has been raging for years but I think it’s particularly frustrating for freelance journalists who rely on social media for work,” she said. “It’s our window, or shop front, to the world. If we’re pitching to a new commissioning editor, having a blue tick has got to help fast track the process.

“Most of the freelancers I know who have blue ticks got them while they were doing a staff job but the whole process seems completely random and arbitrary for long-term freelancers like me. Twitter needs to be more transparent in its selection process and provide details if it rejects an application.”

A Twitter spokesperson told Press Gazette: “We strive to be consistent in our verification decisions and will weigh every new application, regardless of who it comes from, based on our policy criteria. You’re welcome to reapply for verification after 30 days if you feel that your application should not have been rejected.”

They did not respond to questions asking for further guidance for journalists making applications or questioning whether a human or an algorithm was responsible for the decisions.

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