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The Quest for Clout: The power of a check mark in Information Cascades


I’ve recently started using Twitter. I’m a CS major that interned in Silicon Valley this past summer and is trying to do anything he can to get back to California. So in that effort, I’ve been all up in the @ mentions and DMs of Twitter University Recruiters. I’ve really enjoyed using the platform. My initial apprehension of the platform came from the belief that it only existed to follow your favorite celebrities. And I’m very much of the mentality that if someone is enjoying something (like following celebrities) and they aren’t hurting anybody then they should have the right to enjoy that. I just don’t personally enjoy it. But Twitter is sooooooooooooo much more than a way to follow Cole Sprouce. Twitter is, above all else, a news platform. And like most news platforms, we naturally look for sources that we can trust. And Twitter has taken on some incredible power in that search by implementing this tiny little blue thing:

Yes, that coveted verification mark. The moment I get that check mark I will have known that I’ve made it. I can buy my parents a new house, pay off these loans, get house in LA, get a bigger pool than Ye (and look man Ye’s pool is nice, mine’ll be bigger is all I’m saying). If I see a tweet saying that LeBron is coming back to Miami and bringing Dwyane Wade and Space Jam Michael Jordan back with him from @wojespn (Adrian Wojnarowski), a user that has that verification mark on his account, I’ll be much more inclined to believe him. However if I see a tweet from @my_uncle_works_at_espn that says that the Miami Heat are predicted to be the worst team in the league and he/she doesn’t have that verification mark, I can feel comfortable ignoring that nonsense. The paper linked above mentions the problem of identifying the k most influential individuals in a network. It’d be pretty easy to argue that a user with that verification mark is a pretty influential user. But on Twitter, the verification mark has taken on an additional meaning. It also represents popularity. And that’s where the problem lies.

See, nobody really knows the criteria Twitter has for verification. And anybody can request it. So let’s say I’m somebody with malicious intent. I want nothing more than to spread misinformation. I apply for Twitter Verification and I get it. So not only do people look at me as a credible source of information, I am also suddenly a lot more popular and showing up in a lot more searches. So naturally, a lot of information (or in this case misinformation) can cascade from me to many Twitter users. And then I become even more influential and it’s just a vicious cycle. The article talks about Information cascade at a group scale. Imagine I got a bunch of friends, we all got verified, and spread misinformation. How much worse would this effect be? In this era of Fake News (which, quick aside, how the hell did this even happen? Like, I feel like fake news has always existed but instead of falling back to the shadows now that it’s being talked about, I feel like there’s more fake news than ever now. Interesting how that worked out) the credibility of every reporter is in question. Even when you use what you can find out on your own, the fact that so many people believe a certain thing because one (or a few) people with a check mark say it to be true may influence how you believe things to be.

All of these problems and more are probably why Twitter has decided to overhaul it’s current verification system which involved removing some peoples’ verified status. Which is probably for the better. What good is me getting up on my soapbox if nobody is gonna do anything about what I’m saying? And with that, I am stepping off of my soapbox for the semester.

It’s been great everyone. Shoutout to that one user who commented on my last blog post and called it entertaining. I try my hardest. It was a fun semester. Hopefully my posts meant something. But for now, it’s on to the next one. Thank you so much for listening to me ramble. I love you all. And as they say in show business, that’s a wrap.

Yours truly,

the antisocial network a.ka. The largest q threshold


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