Credit: Edgar Moran on Unsplash

Founders of Freelancing for Journalists Lily Canter and Emma Wilkinson have launched a campaign asking Twitter to clarify its "opaque and arbitrary" verification process of freelance journalists.

The idea came after both journalists applied for Twitter verification following pretty much identical processes, but Wilkinson was rejected while Canter was approved.

You may think a blue tick is not a big deal anyway, but Wilkinson explains that for her as a health journalist, Twitter is a vital source of information, contacts and the main way of sharing her work.

"For experienced and respected journalists it is very frustrating that verification seems completely out of reach,” she says.

"There is so much mis- and disinformation on social media that it is more important than ever that bona fide journalists with a proven body of work are able to be verified and not discriminated against because they work for a range of publications rather than being on staff."

Their experience resonated with other prominent freelance journalists who shared their frustration with Twitter’s seemingly arbitrary decisions about which accounts get verified.

According to Twitter, the blue tick lets users know that an account of public interest is authentic, meaning that the person behind it is who they say they are. Although the feature started as a way to verify heads of state and celebrities who were using the platform to make announcements, the demand for blue ticks has grown over the years.

Today, having the badge next to your name signals that the platform recognises you as a legitimate journalist since one of the requirements is to have produced recent content for "notable" publications. In other words, the tick says you are working with recognised news outlets and that for many journalists equals prestige.

But Wilkinson points out that this disadvantages freelancers who often write for highly specialised niche publications that are not always known beyond their field. Most publications also do not have freelancers' profiles or bios on their websites, making it harder for independent journalists to make the case for their verification.

According to a Twitter spokesperson, the platform has recently introduced a few new ways to provide clarity on its verification decisions, such as more detailed decision emails that explain why an application has been rejected to allow people to fix it when they reapply after 30 days. Twitter also plans to add more guidelines within the application to clarify the information it accepts for each category.

"Measurement is an important part of understanding where we are in making sure the process is equitable. So we've introduced a voluntary survey at the end of the application that will help us better understand who is applying for verification, and how we can continue to improve," the spokesperson added.

But is there a danger that the blue tick will eventually lose its meaning? After all, it is hard to classify everything that legitimate news organisations publish as quality journalism. Plus, by asking Twitter to decide who is and is not a blue tick-worthy journalist, we may unwillingly give the tech platform the power to influence the perception of what quality journalism is, based on criteria that have nothing to do with good journalistic practices.

"It’s far from being a perfect system, and not necessarily the one we would design, but it is the system we have and so we have to work within it," says Wilkinson. "I don’t think a blue tick necessarily means you are the oracle of truth but our members tell us they just want recognition as the trusted and legitimate journalists they have proven themselves to be."

"The verification process at the moment is not transparent," adds Canter. "We want to know how Twitter is actually making their decisions and to hold them accountable. The process appears to be completely arbitrary and I have no idea why I was refused on my first attempt and accepted on my second. This lack of transparency undermines the whole concept of verification."

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