Twitter’s method of verifying official accounts is a mysterious and sometimes messy system, and it was exposed as such over the weekend by the case of “fake Mrs. Rupert Murdoch.”
If you’re just joining the story, one day after News Corporation CEO Rupert Murdoch joined Twitter, a man in London set up a Twitter account in the name of his wife, Wendi Deng. Although the man is now clearly labeling it a spoof, both News Corp and Twitter originally thought it was real.
Twitter went so far as to give it the official blue “Verified” label. But all parties involved announced today that the account was a fake, and Twitter posted an apology:
We can confirm that the @wendi_deng account was mistakenly verified for a short period of time and apologize for the confusion this caused.
— Twitter Comms (@twittercomms) January 3, 2012
Twitter Verification: A Mystery
How does a brand new account get (almost) immediately and incorrectly verified?
A Twitter spokesperson told The Guardian, “We don’t comment on our verification process,” but the London man who created the account told the paper that Twitter never even contacted him before verifying his account:
When Twitter verified it, I was completely and utterly shocked. A little nervous too, if I’m honest, about what had happened and whether it had all gone too far. I just couldn’t believe they would have verified such a high profile account without checking it out, but I absolutely received no communication from Twitter to the email address I used to register.
Twitter has a page in its support area that explains Verified Accounts, but says the “program is currently closed to the public.” The company used to have a request form for verification, but that’s been taken down.
Twitter’s not alone in its confusing and mysterious verification systems; last summer on Search Engine Land, Danny Sullivan wrote about the problem in his article, The Bassackwardness Of Being Verified On Twitter, Facebook & Google+.
So when a fake account is able to expose a gaping hole in how Twitter verifies accounts, the final word belongs to the Fake Mrs. Murdoch account holder, who told The Guardian, “If that’s their security process for high profile users, then I do think they need to rethink it urgently.”
Postscript, January 4: According to an article on All Things Digital, Twitter mistakenly verified the fake @wendi_deng account when it meant to verify the real @wendideng account.