The blue checkmark of a verified account has become a marker of legitimacy on Twitter. Yet, like other invented status symbols, it seems men are more likely to have one.
It’s difficult to determine just how many verified men there are versus women on the site Twitter does not request gender during signup or the verification process.
But data pulled for Mashable suggests men are doing remarkably better: Analysis by U.S. social analysis firm Brandwatch suggests far more men than women have been verified in Australia and the U.S.
Brandwatch examined all verified accounts not belonging to an organization or brand that actively tweeted between Aug. 1 and Sept. 22 of 2016. Applying filters that look for country and gender indicators, it estimated 83.3 percent of verified users in Australia were male compared to 16.7 percent female. In the U.S., it estimated verified users were 56.6 percent male and 43.4 percent female.
In Australia, 83.3 percent of verified users were male compared to 16.7 percent female.
While there’s a margin of error given gender is not specifically collected by Twitter, the discrepancy becomes more marked when you consider the gender breakdown on Twitter in Australia is fairly even overall. In September, its total unique audience was 51 percent male and 49 percent female, a Nielsen spokesperson told Mashable.
Nielsen has yet to reveal those numbers for the U.S. audience to Mashable.
Women also seem to be talking about verification more than men. Twitter’s @Verified handle was tweeted about 36,000 times between Aug. 1 and Sept. 26, according to Brandwatch, with 63.6 percent of those coming from women.
Twitter itself could not provide the gender breakdown of verified accounts to Mashable, although it does assign gender in its Analytics service.
Who’s calling the shots?
Verified accounts originally launched in 2009, after the company was sued by a baseball manager being impersonated on the platform. At first, the badge was reserved for “well-known individuals at risk of impersonation,” so Twitter would proactively reach out and verify high-profile users.
Over the years Twitter slowly loosened its criteria and, in July 2016, it opened up the application process to the public at large. Accounts “determined to be of public interest” had the potential to be verified.
What’s in the public interest? Hard to say. The process by which people are approved for verification remains murky for those outside official media or sporting organizations, and Twitter has been mostly silent about its internal criteria for fear of users gaming the system.
For some women, it is Twitter’s perceived inconsistency about verification that truly grates.
Despite her more than 12,000 followers, a California-based engineer with a high public profile, who preferred not to be named to avoid harassment, told Mashable she was rejected by Twitter after her first application. “Meanwhile, my male colleagues with a couple hundred followers were getting verified, so that was a bit frustrating,” she said.
She applied again and has now been verified.
The engineer said she mentioned in both applications she had been impersonated by trolls on Twitter, making verification particularly vital. It’s also troubling, she feels, that the process is so opaque.
“It doesn’t surprise me that a certain type of person seems to have less trouble getting verified.”
“Twitter employees have a lot of privilege and get to decide who is branded ‘notable’ or not,” she said. “So depending on what their process is (and my guess is that there isn’t much of one for making the call), it doesn’t surprise me that a certain type of person seems to have less trouble getting verified.”
Journalist and activist Asher Wolf, who has more than 46,000 followers but is not verified, has long been vocal on the issue.
She observed that those Twitter has verified in Australia appear to fit a certain narrative less activism these days, and more sport and popular culture.
After all, Twitter is doubling down on sporting streams these days, like the NFL and, most recently, the Melbourne Cup horse race.
It’s possible that verification reflects unfortunate social and corporate realities. The number of verified players across Rugby and Australian Rules Football, among other sports, may help skew the results toward men in Australia a phenomenon that could certainly be mirrored in other regions.
Although Twitter would not reveal whether verification has a level of automation, partnership managers in Australia’s Twitter office often manage verification for their particular vertical, such as media.
For that reason, they may simply be working with what they’re presented. A report from Price Waterhouse Coopers earlier in the year indicated the typical Australian media worker was a 27-year-old white male living in inner Sydney.
Still, with Twitter’s brand regularly taking a beating over abuse on the platform, a little proactivity on the part of the company to verify outside the establishment is overdue.
Who is safe and who is silenced?
While you might think of verification as a frivolous bit of social preening, it’s also used as a legitimate tool that can help filter abuse.
As noted in the Australian newspaper, even Twitter executives have admitted the abuse of female Australian journalists and commentators “should be treated more seriously.” Twitter rolled out a “quality filter” for all users in August and it also allowed users to filter notifications by accounts they follow. If you’re verified, however, you can look only at mentions from other verified accounts.
The company rolled out a suite of new anti-harassment tools Tuesday, including more advanced muting capabilities and an overhaul of its reporting features.
How much of a difference that will make for users that experience abuse is yet to be seen, but the ability to see replies only from other verified accounts could add an extra layer of protection to those in need, particularly those who share ideas (and get abused for them) in public forums.
Saman Shad, a Sydney-based freelance journalist who has written for the Guardian and SBS, among others, told Mashable she had applied for verification a few months ago but heard nothing back.
Shad said she was not shocked by the numbers appearing to indicate more men had been verified. “I am also wondering how many people of color have been verified. Is it unconscious bias at work?” she asked. “Are we not taken as seriously as journalists? These are the questions that I’m asking.”
“Is it unconscious bias at work? Are we not taken as seriously as journalists?”
Without verification, she has taken steps to avoid abuse, including changing her mentions to responses only from people she follows.
She also avoids using hashtags she knows are being monitored by anti-feminist trolls “who will make your life hell,” such as #everydaysexism.
“I think what’s happening is that a lot of female journalists are moving off Twitter and not using it as much, purely because of the amount of trolling that takes place,” she added. “I think it’s sad, because you feel like you’re being silenced.”
With Bloomberg reporting that Twitter’s abuse problem contributed to Disney being ultimately unwilling to buy it, verification issues may be the least of the platform’s problems. But Twitter is a vital tool for many industries, not least the media.
As it tackles its abuse problem, it’s incumbent upon the company to ensure women aren’t kept, as ever, one step behind.