Twitter bots and memorialized users will become ‘new account types’ in 2021

After a period of public feedback, Twitter adjusted some its plans for a new verification process, set to roll out next year. The company suspended public verification applications in 2017 and since appears to have rethought a few aspects of what information the platform should signal to its users, blue checks and beyond.

One big verification-adjacent change around the corner: Twitter plans to add a way of distinguishing bots and other automated accounts.

“… It can be confusing to people if it’s not clear that these accounts are automated,” the company wrote in a blog post. “In 2021, we’re planning to build a new account type to distinguish automated accounts from human-run accounts to make it easier for people to know what’s a bot and what’s not.”

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Of course, not all bots are good bots, but automated accounts have flourished on the platform since its early days and bots remain some of the most useful, whimsical and otherwise beloved sources of tweets.

The company is also working on a better way to handle accounts for users who have died, and plans to introduce a memorialization process in 2021. Twitter says that memorialized accounts, like bots, will become “a new account type,” making them distinct from normal users. The idea grew out of the same spirit as Twitter’s labels for political figures, which sought to provide contextual info about users that can be seen at a glance.

Taking more than 22,000 pieces of feedback on the new verification process into account, Twitter will no longer require a profile bio or header picture to verify users, calling its former thinking “too restrictive.” It’s also redefined a few of its eligible verification categories, expanding “sports” to include esports and adding more language around digital content creators into the entertainment category.

Twitter also apparently received a lot of suggestions calling for additional verification categories for scientists, academics and religious figures. Until it spins out more categories, those users can seek verification under the “activists, organizers, and other influential individuals” catch-all category.

Verification applicants will need to apply under a particular category and provide links or other information supporting their application. The new “self-serve” verification process will be available through account settings on both mobile and desktop.

Twitter will implement the new account verification policy on January 20, 2021, three years after freezing the process. The company did not specify when public verification applications will be accepted again, but it sounds like the wait won’t be too long and the company plans to share more soon. Starting on the 20th, Twitter will begin sweeping out inactive verified accounts and others that don’t meet its new bar for a “complete account.”

In the adjusted policy, a complete account — and one eligible for verification — must have a verified email or phone number, a profile image and a display name. Anyone who’s verified but doesn’t meet those criteria will receive notifications of the required changes, which must be made before January 20.

Twitter’s new policy also lays out the company’s right to revoke verification for accounts in “severe or repeated violation” of the platform’s rules. It sounds like new policy could lay a clearer path for the company to take against users who break the rules, though that ultimately will come down to enforcement rather than written policies.

“We will continue to evaluate such accounts on a case-by-case basis, and will make improvements in 2021 on the relationship between enforcement of our rules and verification,” Twitter wrote in the post.

Twitter paused the verification process in November, 2017 following a public outcry over its decision to verify Jason Kessler. Kessler infamously organized the Unite the Right event in Charlottesville, Virginia that gathered neo-Nazis and white supremacists, ultimately leaving one peaceful counterprotester dead. The pause was extended the next year as the company decided to direct more resources toward election integrity.

With the midterms and the general U.S. election behind it, Twitter has returned to its effort to rethink the verification process and what it symbolizes for users on the platform. The company is also experimenting with new features that could dial down harassment, toxicity and misinformation.

Twitter recently added friction to the retweet process in an effort to slow the spread of misinformation, though it rolled the change back after the election. Twitter’s latest test: A new pop-up that displays shared interests and a profile bio when a user goes to reply to someone they don’t follow.

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