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Twitter's New Verifying Phone Numbers Tactic May Not Live Up to Its Potential

Twitter's New Verifying Phone Numbers Tactic May Not Live Up to Its Potential Image
  • Posted on 30th Aug, 2022 06:51 AM
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Twitter is testing verifying accounts by phone number, but experts say it's primarily a PR move to combat a pending lawsuit over the number of bot accounts on the platform.

  • Twitter is testing giving accounts with a verified phone number a special badge, but it isn’t the same as Twitter Verified’s blue checkmarks.
  • Badges could potentially make accounts appear more trustworthy.
  • Some experts worry the change might not have the desired effect. Others question its motives.

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Twitter's new efforts to verify accounts have experts worried it might not be enough to cut down on spam and trolls—and it could even be dangerous for some.

Twitter confirmed its plans to add the badge to accounts whose phone numbers are verified late last week, believing it could help people legitimize their accounts. But several experts are already pointing to potential problems that could impact the usefulness of such a badge.

"It's very easy to attain phone numbers—even using numbers with zip codes specific to a certain area." Linda Pophal, a consultant at Strategic Communications and a digital marketing specialist, told Lifewire via direct message. "So I think the potential for spammers and spam bots will still exist to some degree," despite Twitter's plans.

Real Problems, Real People

Twitter recently told TechCrunch that it is testing the new badges to allow people to add context to their accounts. It comes at a time when the company remains under intense scrutiny over the number of bot accounts on its platform. One-time prospective owner Elon Musk is going to court because of his decision to back out of a buyout of the company, citing bot account numbers as the reason. That's led some experts to question the motives behind the new badges.

There has [previously] been a failure to protect users' phone numbers, by the platform's admission.

"Requiring a phone number for verification on Twitter is primarily a PR move by the platform to combat revelations that it may have significantly more bots than it previously stated," Baruch Labunski, founder of digital marketing and content firm Rank Secure told Lifewire via direct message. "This is also a pre-court move to prepare for the case with Elon Musk coming up in October."

Exactly how many bots and fake accounts are on Twitter isn't clear, but the social network's own numbers suggest it could be more than 16 million at any given moment. Musk believes it to be more.

While Labunski agrees that fake phone numbers could limit the validity of Twitter's new badge, he has other concerns. "Those who make a living off of selling and using bots will use these [fake number services] to continue with fake accounts," he said, adding that "the other problem is with security around Twitter obtaining phone numbers. There has [previously] been a failure to protect users' phone numbers, by the platform's admission." He wonders whether people will trust Twitter with their information.

But There’s Still (Some) Hope

Whether or not Twitter's intentions are as pure as it suggests, experts believe that spam and fake accounts are problems that Twitter must address. "As someone who has worked in the social media space since 2005, I can assert that spam has been a surprisingly horrible issue on Twitter," Kelly Ann Collins, a social media expert and Twitter creator, told Lifewire via direct message.

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She doesn't believe that Twitter is trying to distract people from the looming trial with Musk, adding that a phone number-verified badge could still do good. "For the phone-verified users, I think having a verified phone badge would lend a layer of credibility," she said, adding that it could be an option for those not already packing a Twitter Verified badge. "There are many people who try to get verified because they want their audiences to know that they are, in fact, real people. I believe this would help them, too."

But not everyone will want to, or should, hand over private information such as a phone number. "Until now, one of the better features of online platforms is the ability to stay anonymous. You can put up a nickname and post away," says Labunski, saying that "adding a verified number negates anonymity." To some, that's the whole point of the badge. But for others, it could be to their detriment and, potentially, even put them in danger. "It also puts some at risk of harassment and stalking, as numbers can be traced to locations. That is a real concern in this politically divisive environment."

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