Friday, 2 December, 2022
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I fought against Twitter blue tick because it creates an Apartheid in conversations

Twitter blue tick is unequal, hierarchical and arbitrary in nature.

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Right after Elon Musk took over Twitter, he announced that the “Whole verification process is being revamped right now.” Many have reported that the social media platform will now charge people for the blue tick verification—making an already unequal platform more elitist.

In 2019, I dumped my Twitter blue tick in protest by changing my username last week. As I wrote this column, Twitter restored the blue tick. I am no longer part of the public clamour for Twitter’s blue-blooded blue-ticks because it engenders a new 21st century Apartheid in conversations.

For the uninitiated, the blue tick verification is a badge of honour Twitter gives to only some of the accounts, out of its several million users. Those lucky few and honoured accounts are known as verified accounts. We can call these blue tickers an exclusive club of Twitter users, who stand on a pedestal and oversee from their rarefied, verified lens large swathes of masses, ordinary teeming millions, who have to be shepherded with their wisdom and opinion.

If you know someone who can fetch blue ticks for others, then you can use that as a leverage and enhance your position in the society. In that sense, blue tick is a real possession, an accessory of arrival not just a virtual gimmick. I have even heard people saying they can arrange a blue tick for Rs 5 lakh.

It is such a sought-after thing on social media that Twitter officials are often pestered for it and the managing director of its India operations, Manish Maheshwari, had to announce on his Twitter bio that he has no power to give blue tick.

So, I also wished if I can get an entry into that prestigious, sought-after club of blue tick holders. Many others I knew applied with me for Twitter verification. Interestingly, Twitter, while verifying several accounts with fewer follower count, decided not to give me a blue tick. Twitter’s rationale was that its international team was against giving me that badge.

At the same time, my Twitter handle was restricted by the admins on a flimsy reason and an uproar started in the virtual world. Many hashtags related to this controversy trended. I discussed the issue of blue tick on Twitter, and several users called out the caste discrimination.

Then, one fine morning, Twitter lifted all restrictions from my account and a blue badge popped up next to my name. Twitter never explained why it decided to verify my account.

This is how I got a blue tick badge.

But still, I decided to discard the blue tick trophy and, in order to do that, I changed my username. I do not know if anybody else in India has done it before, willingly.

So, what changed my view on the blue tick privilege?

Also read: Blue tick not just a verification mark but a mark of Twitter’s caste bias, say users

There was a time I wanted to have one, but of late, there has been some rethink regarding this badge. These are some of the reasons for discarding my blue tick badge:

  1. Blue ticks are antithetical to internet equality: The promise of early internet was that it will democratise public conversation and give every user a level-playing field. I was one of the early users of internet. Those were the days of AOL and sites, and I must admit that I observed with awe how almost anybody could have her or his own website or an account on a social media platform and say whatever she or he likes. That was the time when journalist Ann Cooper wrote a paper in Columbia Journalism Review on how everyone was a journalist now and the question was not ‘who is a journalist, but who is doing journalism’. For Cooper, anyone with an internet connection could do journalism. She saw that as ‘the tent getting bigger’. It is true that the tent has grown bigger over the years, but the promise of level-playing field has not been kept. Blue tick is one of the symptoms of that malice. It is a travesty to the equality principle because it changes the power dynamics in a conversation between a verified and a non-verified account.
  2. Blue ticks are hierarchical: This badge is intended to create a hierarchy in the social media as only a chosen few have it and the majority don’t. It is exactly how knowledge of Sanskrit created a caste hierarchy centuries ago. The stated purpose of blue tick badge is to verify the identity of the user. Going by that standard, it should be given to anyone who can prove her or his identity. The social media hierarchy that Twitter is creating segregates the users into two categories: some are opinion-shapers, while others are just followers. This is a model of two-step communication. It does not stop non-blue tick accounts from starting conversations, but it’s very difficult for them to get traction from other users. It’s almost impossible for these non-verified users to generate a critical momentum that is required to get their hashtags figured in the trend list. For a trend to reach the top, it’s a prerequisite that it first surfaces in the list.
  3. Blue ticks are arbitrary and discriminatory: Twitter has never clearly disclosed the method or the parameter for verifying an account. Since the process of giving blue ticks is opaque, it can cause doubts in the minds of many users regarding its fairness. In 2017, it announced that the verification process would be put on hold. But it has never really stopped verifying accounts. Since there is no set protocol or procedure for verification, social structures like caste, region and religion have started playing a role, even involuntarily. That is why SCs, STs, OBCs and even Muslims are demanding that their accounts should be verified.
  1. Blue ticks are creating ghettos: As most of the verified accounts tend to follow or retweet only other verified accounts, a bubble is being created where only blue tick accounts shape the conversations while others just follow them. Twitter gives an option to verified accounts to see notifications only from verified accounts. This creates an echo-chamber where these verified accounts hear only certain voices. It creates a sort of ‘Davos effect’ – the snow-capped Alps where the rich and the powerful meet and network with each other once a year. Twitter too is merely reproducing the existing power and social domination structures.
  2. Implications for democracy: Blue tick verification also has implications for a democracy like India because a lot of conversations are happening on social media and public opinion is also formed and shaped here. This is not a private company’s affair alone. It affects our public discourse and the kind of governments we form. We must think hard about this. We are a late entrant to the ongoing worldwide debate on the role of social media in democracy.

Also read: Twitter emerges as a top threat to democracy in India and across the world

Dilip Mandal is the former managing editor of India Today Hindi magazine, and has authored books on media and sociology. Views are personal.

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  1. This joker has no work other than to prove how great equalizer he is, honestly Mandal no one gives a F whether u have a blue tick, green tick or yellow tick on ur twitter profile or on your posterior. If u wanna do something help real people stop sermonising what great deed u did in virtual world of social media

  2. Anyone and everyone who does not agree with your rabidly casteist views and attitude stands accused of Aparthied style discrimination.

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