The Blue Checkmark Gap

12 Percent of State Emergency Management Accounts Marked “Verified” By Twitter

(Cross-posting from my Digital PIO blog; originally posted there Oct. 1)

I love baseball. I could watch MLB Network around the clock if I didn’t have a job, wife, two little girls and other general societal responsibilities.

Like some people, I use my iPhone while I watch MLB Network. I’m one of those “connected viewers” Pew Internet & American Life Project has documented in recent weeks. As I toggle through Twitter, I’ve noticed many Major League Baseball player accounts feature the coveted blue “verified” checkmark – seemingly every player from well-known names to no-name rookies.

I find this noteworthy because the blue checkmark does not appear to be applied consistently.

As government communicators trying to inform our public, especially during emergencies, shouldn’t our accounts be verified, too? We need the blue checkmark to give our voice that ring of truth amid hashtag chaos as an incident unfolds and people seek sources of information.

What do the numbers say?

Let’s look at two samples – player accounts listed by Major League Baseball and state emergency management accounts compiled by FEMA.

The scoreboard says:

  • MLB: 351 of 451 accounts verified (78 percent)
  • State emergency management: 7 of 59 accounts verified (12 percent)

The Blue Checkmark Gap is quite striking in this context.

How does Twitter describe verified accounts? In part:

“Verification is currently used to establish authenticity of identities on Twitter. The verified badge helps users discover high-quality sources of information and trust that a legitimate source is authoring the account’s Tweets.”

Do we want to establish our authentic identities? Yes.

Can we serve as high-quality, first-hand sources of information? Yes.

Do we want to convey that a legitimate source is behind our tweets? Yes.

I’m not suggesting the blue checkmark serves as a final, fool-proof answer for a social media account, but I’m highlighting a gap that needs to be addressed. How can Twitter help us? Have we reached out to Twitter enough? If the blue checkmark is easily offered to athletes and celebrities, then will the public trust our emergency accounts as “official” if they don’t see the verified mark? Of course, many people may not even notice the checkmark, but some will. It’s a matter of consistency across all types of industries and Twitter accounts.

Last week, Twitter took the admirable step to help the Japanese government integrate social media into a major earthquake drill. In summary:

“…Twitter and smartphones remain at the core of Japan’s emergency contingency plans, as was illustrated yesterday when Twitter, Yahoo Japan and domestic real estate firm Mori clubbed together to test the potential of mobile apps and the microblogging platform in disaster situations.”

I hope this drill proved successful and leads to more integration during emergencies here across the Pacific Ocean. If Twitter has a growing interest in emergency response, then it should strongly consider creating an easier and more robust way to verify key PIO accounts. We need to work together so our major public safety accounts get verified across our urban, suburban, exurban and rural communities. Can a process and relationship like MLB and Twitter be established? I know emergency management and PIO accounts are not as glamorous or fun as baseball players, but when times call for it, our alerts and insight will be critical to our communities.

How about considering larger, comparative samples? Let’s look at the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s North Atlantic law enforcement list and its North Central list:

  • North Atlantic law enforcement: 6 of 236 accounts verified (2.5 percent)
  • North Central law enforcement: 4 of 222 accounts verified (1.8 percent)

And to not leave out fire/EMS, here’s a quick look at the U.S. Fire Administration’s list of fire departments:

  • Fire/EMS departments: 2 of 302 accounts verified (0.66 percent)

As digital communicators, we need access to the best options and features of social media sites amid a world of a million messages so our public can “discover high-quality sources of information and trust that a legitimate source is authoring the account’s Tweets.”

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