Trainee Journalist

November 1, 2022 (Updated )

To apply or not to apply? Twitter verification has always been a popular topic of discourse amongst many journalists — even before Elon Musk reportedly floated ideas to charge users US$20 a month for the privilege.

For many in the journalism world, it had become a holy grail of achievement, signifying that your work and career merit recognition. However, while quick to apply for, Twitter’s blue tick is notoriously difficult to attain, with several campaigns over the past 12 months to widen access to underrepresented groups.

Many in the industry feel slighted when a rejection email drops into their inbox; journalists who felt they met the requirements are left baffled when they don’t seem to fit the bill. But how exactly does becoming Twitter verified benefit those who do succeed — does it really help reputations and careers? How does this all change if it becomes a ‘pay to play’ game? And, why do we all crave that tiny blue icon so much?

What’s The Point Of The Verification Process?

Before we delve into whether a blue tick is all it’s stacked up to be, let’s row it back to what the process is currently used for. “The blue verified badge on Twitter lets people know that an account of public interest is authentic,” reads Twitter’s ‘About Verified Accounts’ page. “To receive the blue badge, your account must be authentic, notable, and active.”

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“I just don't see why I need one. I don’t know of any way in which it would help me. I get pitches accepted off what I pitch and write. What does a blue tick do?”
Chaminda Jayanetti, Freelance Journalist

“Individuals in news and journalists” are just one category of people that can apply to be verified on Twitter, alongside government officials, sports players, celebrities, and high-profile activists. However, it’s important to remember that the blue tick isn’t just about a pat on the back, but rather proof that an account does actually belong to a notable person.

The feature launched in 2009 after growing complaints from celebrities about impersonators — as well as a lawsuit from baseball coach Tony La Russa. The company later expanded the definition to encompass legitimate sources of news. In short, the idea was never really meant to be about clout, even if that is how some of us view it today.

So, What Are The Benefits Of Twitter Verification?

Aside from proving you are who you say you are, there’s debate about what else the symbol gets you. Some journalists say it helps to get you in front of high-profile people (verified users are able to set their notifications to only those from other verified users) and others say it helps to increase your credibility to interviewees.

Speaking to Journo Resources before the news about the potential changes broke, freelance journalist Chris Stokel-Walker adds, “Lots of people that you speak to as a journalist will often do due diligence about you before they speak to you. One of the places that they will go to is Twitter.

“If you are lacking in a blue tick, then it can often be more difficult to convince people of your legitimacy. Social media is where we source case studies, where we build our reputations and our careers.”

How Does The Verification Process Actually Work?

Officially, the only way to be verified is to apply through Twitter’s application process.

However, as with anything, there’s certainly an element of ‘who you know’, as many accounts continued to be verified while the programme was paused between 2017 and 2021.

For those of us without insider access, the process is different for freelancers and those working for a staff publication.

If you’re employed by an already verified news organisation, you’ll be expected to tweak your bio to reflect this and may be asked for links to your work, staff profile, or evidence of your Twitter handle on the organisation’s website.

For freelancers, you’ll need at least three pieces crediting your work across the last six months, again from verified news outlets, and, ideally, they’ll reference your Twitter handle on-site.

Both may require you to submit a government-issued ID to prove you are who you say you are.

For award-winning freelance journalist Emma Wilkinson, who spoke to Journo Resources earlier this year about her struggles to get verified, verification has its purpose. “So many of my contacts are on Twitter; it’s actually kind of integral to the work that I’m doing and stories that I find, or else otherwise I’d really just try to ignore it.”

However, for Jake Tucker, a commissioning editor for NME, the system has become less useful over the past few years. “[Five years ago] it indicated that someone was speaking with a bit of authority and that they were who they said they were. There was a certain amount of implicit trust.”

Nowadays though, he finds the opposite is often true: “That trust eroded somewhat as more right-wing voices, already verified, slid into pushing conspiracy theories. In video games journalism it hasn’t really impacted me at all, except that sometimes if I’ll respond to something and people want an easy jab to make, they can call me a ‘blue tick’, as if it has some connotations I can’t really see.”

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Journo Resources

Anmol Irfan (L) and Chris Stokel-Walker (R)

This attitude towards verified journalists is an increasingly common trend — just search ‘blue tick journalist’ on Twitter and a constant stream of negatively toned posts comes up.

With verified status bringing some journalists higher visibility, general suspicion and mistrust of journalists can make those who are verified a prime target for hate or harassment. “They become a representation of authority, the establishment, and everything that’s ‘wrong’,” Olivia James, a performance and confidence coach tells Journo Resources.

And, for many journalists, it’s a system they’ve never attempted to engage with in the first place. “I just don’t see why I need one,” says Chaminda Jayanetti, a journalist covering politics and public services.

“I don’t know of any way in which it would help me. I get pitches accepted based off what I pitch and write, I get commissions based on what I’ve done before — what does a blue tick do?

“I’m not somebody that anyone would bother creating a parody account of, and there are not many people with my name knocking around, so there’s not much risk of mistaken identity, if that’s what it’s about.”

So, Why Are We All Applying For It?

With such a wide range of opinions around the ‘coveted blue tick’, why are we all so invested in applying for it in the first place? “Possibly because it is so hard to get it,” sums up Dr Lily Canter, a freelance journalist who co-founded a campaign with Emma to get more freelance journalists verified.

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“There seems to be a gold rush towards verification. One of the motivations [to apply] was that idea that I was stuck outside of the club, and I wanted to be on the inside.”
Chris Stokel-Walker

Chris agrees: “There seems to be a gold rush towards verification. One of the motivations [to apply] was the idea that I was stuck outside of the club, and I wanted to be on the inside.”

Or as Olivia puts it: “For our brains, it’s a really quick way to group and rank people. A blue tick is a clear visual sign of belonging. No matter how much we may protest, part of us longs to be within the crowd.”

An Already Flawed System

However, the exclusive nature of Twitter verification has also been problematic in itself, with many saying underrepresented groups are unfairly pushed to the sidelines.

Campaigner Liam O’Dell, for example, has been pushing for more disabled voices to be verified, while Anmol Irfan, a freelance journalist who has previously written about the online validation of a blue tick, says the process has been bittersweet.

Speaking to Journo Resources, she said: “Honestly, it had sort of become a thing on Twitter and everyone was applying for it, so I applied as a joke. I didn’t think I’d get it, because to me the blue tick was only for personalities who needed to be verified as real, someone who was important enough to be impersonated.”

“It’s always felt a bit weird because I know so many Pakistani journalists who don’t have the blue tick and who are far more experienced than me in years of experience and wisdom and absolutely everything. I think that’s just because they work more locally and local Pakistani publications aren’t seen as verification-worthy or something. So it kind of made it bittersweet.”

However, whether or not you view it as something worth applying for in the first place, all of the journalists we spoke to were clear they would not be willing to pay for it.

A New Era Without The Blue Tick?

“There’s no way I’d pay for a blue tick,” says Thea de Gallier, a freelance journalist and ex-BBC staffer. “I think for a long time they’ve been nothing more than a vanity project, although obviously, I was vain enough to apply for one!

“I don’t think they really serve any purpose now any Tom, Dick, or Harry can seemingly get one, nor has it made any difference to my career. So no, I don’t think they’re worth paying for and even if I did, I wouldn’t because I don’t want to buy my way into some exclusive club on a point of principle.”

She does, however, concede that her blue tick impressed someone on a dating app once.

Thea says a dating app is the only place the blue tick has made an impact.

For Irfan, it’s a diversion from what the symbol is supposed to be about. “Allowing people to pay for it will allow disinformation to spread because people — at least for some time — will consciously or unconsciously give weight to their words.”

Tucker agrees, telling us that he feels the process will become “essentially meaningless” and a class issue. “What does it mean when we’re suggesting the people to be trusted are the ones with extra money to spare?”

For Jayanetti though, it’s the reaction itself that has been most telling: “I think the widespread confused shrug that’s greeted the subscription proposal is revealing in itself — no particular outrage that I’ve seen, just ‘lol ok well I’m not paying that’.

“The benefits, whatever they are, clearly aren’t seen as worth paying for, nor is the threat to charge for them seen as a risk to people’s ability to function as journalists.”

Instead, perhaps it’s time to focus our energies elsewhere. “To me, your time would be better spent actually doing good work, instead of pursuing verification that may or may not make any difference at all to what you do,” Stokel-Walker concludes.

Fern McErlane
Fern McErlane

Fern was previously a trainee at Journo Resources, where she wrote original features and led on our Instagram account. She is now a freelance journalist digital culture, lifestyle, LGBTQIA+ issues, mental health, neurodiversity, and more

Her work has appeared in Stylist, The Strategist UK, Insider, and others.

Jem Collins
Jem Collins

Jem is the founder and editor of Journo Resources. She set up the site in her bedroom in 2016 and now works on the project full-time (still from her bedroom though). She is the winner of The Georgina Henry Award, The Sutton Trust’s Alumni Award for Social Impact and WeAreTheCity’s Rising Star Awards.

Outside of Journo Resources, she has freelanced for a range of national outlets including the i Paper, and PinkNews. She is also trying to swim in every outdoor pool in the UK and look after her toothless rescue cat Swirls.