Our internet-savvy columnist seeks another level of social-media validation—but is it worth it?
A friend of mine, the Magic Radio presenter Tom Price, has a blue tick on Twitter. This means he’s “verified”. He’s the “real” Tom Price. Other folks on Twitter are called Tom Price, of course—but the point is, if you’re a listener seeking out the Tom Price you’ve just heard on the wireless, Twitter have helpfully placed a little blue tick on his account so you know you’ve found the right one.
This irks me. Partly because the idea of someone impersonating Tom on social media seems unlikely; he’s not a big-enough target. It’s one thing falsifying your account to be Kanye West or Lady Gaga if you want to disseminate some spam or launch some clumsy satire—but why bother pretending to be a talented, yet hardly globally famous, weekend radio presenter?
The other reason I'm irritated by Tom’s tick is pure jealousy: he got there first. It hadn’t occurred to me that people like us—regular joes with mortgages and hatchbacks and Nectar cards, who happen to work in radio—could get verified accounts.
"I’d always assumed Twitter’s blue tick was solely for Presidents, pop stars and people who’d won televised baking competitions"
I’d always assumed Twitter’s blue tick was solely for Presidents, pop stars and people who’d won televised baking competitions. I’d imagined the tick was bestowed upon you, like a digital Knighthood, by some secret committee who meet in a Mayfair gentleman’s club (or the Silicon Valley equivalent, which presumably contains beanbags and complimentary coconut water).How the hell did Tom get one? He’s not much more famous than me. He’s not much more good-looking than me. And he actually does have fewer Twitter followers than me: I have...approximately...9,978 more. Not that I’m counting.
A few weeks ago, I swallowed my pride and sent Tom a text: “HOW DID YOU GET A BLUE TICK ON TWITTER???!!!!”. Pretty casual, I thought. Playing it cool.
His reply was genuinely breezy: “Followed @verified on Twitter, and asked them”.
It really is as simple as that. As it turns out, anyone who works in journalism or politics, etc, can do it: all they need do is visit twitter.com/verified, send in a photo of their driving licence to prove their identity, then fill in a short form saying why their account deserves a blue tick. I wrote, “Because I’m a radio presenter and it would satisfy my ego.” Three days later, I had my blue tick.
Even though the application process had been outrageously easy—they’re handing out blue ticks these days like Bibles in Tennessee—I felt, pathetically, a sense of validation when the tick was granted. An independent arbiter—someone who didn’t know me—had rubber-stamped my application to be the official, worldwide Olly Mann. I was now, manifestly, as famous and important as Beyoncé.
“Look, I’ve got a blue tick!”, I said to my wife, proudly brandishing my iPhone.
“Did you remember to buy the milk?” she said.
"I prefer the eclectic mix of tweeters I engage with on the usual, non-verified version of the app"
Then something surprising happened. My phone beeped a little notification: David Walliams was now following me on Twitter! I was excited—I’ve been a fan of his since I was a teenager, and even interviewed him donkeys years ago for the student paper. I couldn’t believe he remembered me, still less that he’d opt to follow my witterings.
Two minutes later, my phone beeped again. Gordon Ramsay was now following me too. The TV chef who makes grown men cry by throwing Bolognese over their heads! It was all a bit overwhelming.
Then I opened my Twitter app—and the scales fell from my eyes. You see, when you become verified, you don’t just get given a little tick—you also get an updated, exclusive version of their app. It recommends you follow other verified users, instead of the usual mix of general public; I was just fortunate to have been algorithmically suggested to Messrs Walliams and Ramsay in that five minutes. All they’d done is absent-mindedly tapped upon my face, and presumably didn’t have a clue who I was.
The Twitter app also filters notifications for their verified users so, if I choose to, I now only see what other verified users are saying about me, rather than the general populous. This must make things more manageable if you have a huge social following: logistically, Rihanna or Adele probably prefer to prioritise what 245,000 verified users are saying about them, rather than attempting to keep up with every mention they receive from the other 320 million people on the platform.
But all this seems rather contrary to the democratic spirit of Twitter. Their concept, when it began, was that we could all contact our dream dinner-party guests directly, without being filtered by agents or publishers or bodyguards. Now, however, it seems the version of the app used by big celebs actively encourages high-profile users to talk mainly to a small circle of fellow blue-tickers.
To be honest, I prefer the eclectic mix of tweeters I engage with on the usual, non-verified version of the app. Perhaps that blue tick was nothing to get ticked off about.
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