George Mason University

News at Mason

Verification on Twitter does not signal credibility for consumers, says Mason researcher

April 9, 2019

Two years ago, Twitter suspended public applications for verification on its platform. The “blue check” of verification came under fire as Twitter assigned one to the account of Jason Kessler, the organizer of the white-supremacist Unite the Right rally. ​

The social media platform responded by stating it was time for the process to come under review as the label, meant to confirm the authenticity of accounts of public interest, became a symbol of importance and endorsement. But do consumers consider the little blue check a mark of credibility? ​

That’s what George Mason University associate professor of communication Emily Vraga and Stephanie Edgerly from Northwestern University wanted to find out. They examined public perception of the verification mark and whether people use it as an indicator of credibility. Their research was recently published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking.​

Vraga and Edgerly decided to explore this concept in the context of news organizations because that is where Vraga said they felt verification matters the most. ​

“With our media environment being what it is, there are just so many news sources that we often have so little information about them,” said Vraga. “This is especially concerning, as some organizations or individuals try to masquerade as news to get money or to get clicks. Twitter's verification could be a good way to help people distinguish high- versus low-quality news sources when they're unfamiliar with them.”​

Then a blue check should indicate to Twitter users that the news is authentic, right? Well, not necessarily. Vraga and Edgerly found that the verification mark did not indicate credibility to consumers.​

“In no case did seeing that little blue check, seeing that this account was verified by Twitter, influence people's perceptions of the credibility of the information itself or the credibility of the organization sharing the information,” said Vraga. ​

In fact, they found that things other than the mark mattered more in terms of credibility, such as whether the sources already agreed with the user’s individual political beliefs or if there was no clear bias at all.​

Vraga suggests that even though consumers don’t currently use the check as an indicator for credibility, Twitter could still use it to help consumers sort through different news organizations by being careful about which ones get verification badges and assigning different types of labels for different kinds of accounts. For instance, celebrities and news organizations could get two different types of badges.​

“People aren't using it to distinguish for news,” said Vraga. “But maybe it would be really valuable in helping them know a credible individual from a not credible individual.”​

Emily Vraga can be reached at 703-993-1090 or evraga@gmu.edu. ​

For more information, contact Mary Lee Clark at 703-993-5118 or mclark35@gmu.edu

About George Mason 

George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls 37,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility.