The Costs of Verification

By December 1st, 2023 No Comments

Before 2022, verification on social media was a service to which many of us never gave a second thought. It was a status on social media reserved for celebrities and public figures. It was not obtainable for the average person. The average social media user gave little thought to those with a little blue tick and those without. Thanks to business tycoon Elon Musk, the conversation around paid verification began with Mark Zuckerberg following suit. Is this an attempt to claw back profits following a mass cut of their staff last year? It is hard to imagine these mammoth businesses struggling, especially in a society where social media is a massive part of our lives.

Zuckerberg has recently announced that Meta is stepping into the ring of putting a price on a historically free platform by introducing Meta Verified. It is a service that allows a profile to be verified, provided they produce a government ID and pay a monthly fee. By providing identification, Meta hopes to stamp out accounts impersonating public figures. Technological advances have significantly aided impersonation in recent years; deep fakes allow people to use the voice and face of a public figure. Many public figures, however, are already verified, and it only takes a little internet sleuthing to distinguish an honest account from a parody one. Providing identification is the bare minimum in impersonation protection, and the question arises of whether people should have to pay for this security service on social platforms.


When Can we Expect the Influx of Little Blue Ticks?

Meta Verified will first launch in Australia and New Zealand. The United States will be next to access the service before rolling globally. The price tag for the exclusive blue tick will be $11.99 a month for web users and $14.99 per month for mobile devices. This cost is higher than Musk’s version, Twitter Blue verifies users for $8 per month. Even Snapchat offers users a premium subscription with Snapchat Plus, costing $3.99 per month. To pay for this once-exclusive blue tick on Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram will cost a minimum of $23.98. This equates to £19.83 for a historically free verification for those with a high following or a significant social standing. As a society, we have been socialised into viewing verified accounts as having more legitimacy and credibility. Now we will see profiles promoting whatever content they wish associated with a symbol that connotes authority for many social media users.

But will people pay these prices for a little blue tick? If the recent statistics released by the business news site The Information is anything to go by, then yes. The Information reported that Twitter Blue had 290,000 paying users this month, earning Twitter $28 million annually. Meta platforms Facebook and Instagram have a user base that is ten times larger than Twitter. Analysts at Wedbush estimate a 3%-7% take-up for Meta Verified on Instagram and less for its older, bluer sister, Facebook. Taking the midpoint of estimated take-up for Meta Verified users on Instagram, this would generate approximately $4.5 billion per quarter. For Facebook, the estimated amount is $2.7 billion per quarter. This is a significant clawback of profits for Meta, who cut more than 11,000 staff last autumn. It begs the question of how did the mighty social moguls fall?


What Made the Mighty Meta Fall?

In 2021 Apple made privacy changes that impacted Meta’s revenues. Apple prohibited the ability to track a user’s internet activity which is vital data when targeting audiences in advertisements. Consequently, in February 2022, Meta reported that these privacy changes would cause more than a $10 billion loss in advertising in 2022. A further assault on Meta came from the fall in share price due to the economic slowdown. As a result, businesses and marketers were spending less on advertising on social media platforms.

Additionally, TikTok, a new kid to the social media block, rose to popularity, providing an alternative platform for businesses to spend their marketing budget on. These recent blows to Meta’s revenue may explain the recent introduction of a paid subscription-like service offered to a society that always aims to put its best foot forward online. Anshu Sharma, the founder of Skyflow, a data privacy company, commented on the verification subscription. Sharma argues it is a signpost that the ‘devil’s bargain of exchanging our data privacy for free apps’ was over. When they cannot buy our data, they make us buy their verification stamps.


The Pros and Cons to Paying for Verification

A benefit for users paying for Meta Verified is a promised increase in the visibility of their posts on the platform. Is this the answer as to why the service is not yet available for businesses? Suppose they give a business more visibility on promotional posts. In that case, it undercuts their potential spending budget on brand awareness ad campaigns on the social media platform. Not only this, but it may also wholly eradicate the feature of paying to boost individual posts to a broader audience. Social media companies need to create extra revenue by having services that can profit from individuals and collectives, meaning businesses.

With every new service introduced to consumers, there are pros and cons. The pros to Meta Verified are the exclusive features accessible to users, increased post visibility, and extra impersonation protection. The cons, however, are that impersonation protection should be a feature for all users. Putting a charge on verification means that although it seems available to everyone, it will not be accessible to every user. Finally, there are still some questions surrounding verified accounts. Will they be prioritised over accounts that do not pay for the service regarding which account shows up on explore pages or our feeds? What will the cost of verifications be for businesses trying to grow their brand online?