The issue here is identity. UniteBlue built their list by changing the account identity of @ConnectTheLeft to UniteBlue and bringing all of the people who followed the original account under the UniteBlue banner in the process. According to Zach Green’s FAQ, people had to request via tweet to join. I did a twitter search for those request tweets and found some, but nowhere near enough to cover 10,000 who now fall under the UniteBlue umbrella.
If Twitter gave a damn, they could fix it. Remember, UniteBlue got their traction by telling people joining would protect them against the spam-block and dreaded “gulag.” Verified identity by Twitter would fix that problem in its entirety:
In the virtual public square [called Twitter], identity is meaningless unless you are one of the privileged few Twitter rewards with a “verified identity” marker. Those go to celebrities, musicians, brands, and journalists, for the most part. The rest of us either fight to preserve our identity or else live in a world of multiple identities. If you are someone like me, who uses one name and one account and has for nearly six years, it is disturbing to imagine that a mistake in an algorithm could silence my voice. Or yours. Or anyone’s. Twitter has created a two-tier social media structure where some have identities, and others don’t. As a result, some are not at risk of being silenced while others are.
As we use social media tools to organize and amplify messages on both sides, there should be some system that values identity and accountability. For all the talk about kids being bullied online, there is plenty of conversation to be had about how social media spaces are gamed in order to weight the message toward one side or the other, how lackadaisical attention to identity and online behavior can destroy reputations not only of brands but also people.
But it’s like gun control. No one wants to talk about it until there’s some horrible consequence. Then we talk for awhile and put it away until the next time something horrible happens. And again. And again.
What UniteBlue/140Elect is attempting to do is create a generic identity system where identification with UniteBlue offers some measure of protection for the “lower tier” user who isn’t privileged enough to have their identity verified by Twitter.
It’s not brain surgery for Twitter to do this directly. It could be user-initiated. Users could voluntarily submit documentation of identity to Twitter similar to how PayPal does it, and in return, receive Twitter’s “verified” checkmark of approval and an exemption from the algorithm. Or some severe weighting within it.
Those who choose not to do that, could choose not to do that. But it seems to me that with Twitter’s recent announcement that individual users’ tweets will be weighted in some way, it would be in Twitter’s best interests to have a foundation upon which to assign weight, and users would have the benefit of at least being able to trust the identity of the person they’re following as well as knowing they would be exempted from the spamblock algorithm.
This whole kerfuffle is Twitter’s fault. What really happened here is that a Twitter account underwent an identity change and became affiliated with UniteBlue, UniteBlue benefitted from that account’s follower base and used that to build what some call a ‘viral’ effort on Twitter and what others call ‘gaming.’
Whatever the outcome in this specific instance, it will happen again and again and again until Twitter really decides identity is worth an investment and they start dealing with it.