Griffin on Tech: Becoming second-class social media citizens
Meta chose New Zealand and Australia to this week roll out its new verification system across Facebook and Instagram, following Twitter’s move to introduce paid-for verification.
My initial reaction to Meta’s move was the same as when Elon musk announced verification as a premium add-on for Twitter: “You want to charge how much?”
Meta Verified will cost $23.99 a month for the web and $29.99 for the iOS and Android app. But, “to use Meta Verified on both Instagram and Facebook, you must subscribe on each app separately,” Meta informs us.
Users who submit a government ID to verify their identity, presumably a driver’s licence or passport details for us here in Aotearoa, will get enhanced security features such as two-factor authentication as a requirement, “increased visibility and prominence in some parts of Instagram and Facebook like comments, search and recommendations”, and access to a “real person” to sort out account issues.
The latter feature would seem to be the most useful. I don’t know how many people I’ve spoken to who have had a serious security breach or problem with their Facebook or Instagram only to face a wall of automated responses and useless FAQs when desperately trying to get some help.
Verification is mainly aimed at content creators and public figures, who want the blue tick by their name. Everyone who is anyone in that category will already have a blue tick, and their status won’t change during this early trial period, Meta advises.
Many influencers and content creators will be making money from Facebook, so will be willing to pay for a premium service. But the rest of us, the eyeballs those content creators want to attract and therefore generate Meta's vast advertising revenues, will effectively now experience a lower level of security protection compared to those who pay for verification.
That also goes for Twitter, which last week sent me an alert informing me that I “must remove text message two-factor authentication” from my Twitter account by March 19 or lose access to Twitter. That fundamental security protection, which we have all been encouraged to enable to avoid our accounts being hijacked, will now only be offered to Twitter Blue subscribers, who pay US$11 a month for the blue verified check mark by their name and the ability to edit their tweets after publication.
Meta has clearly followed Twitter’s lead, cementing the trend towards monetization of verification across social media. Some see that as amounting to the “strip mining” of social media users, whose data is already being mined to generate advertising revenue. We put up with that for the utility social media provides. But that “freemium” deal is looking less attractive by the day.
Twitter wants me to pay protection money.
Meta and Twitter are responsible for everyone’s safety on their platforms, so the idea of them being safer for an elite that can afford to pay is galling, considering that it is the dirty unwashed masses that their whole business model rests on.
There are other problems. How will Meta actually verify the government ID data it is presented with, which could be forged, and will Meta retain any of that verification information? That could create a serious security risk in itself.
An ad-free experience? I'll pay.
Verification is not the route premium subscriptions should take. Google has a better idea. I pay a monthly premium subscription, Youtube Premium, which gives me Youtube Music, but most importantly, strips all of the adverts from Youtube, which is basically Google’s social network. I love the ad-free experience and am willing to pay the fee for that alone, considering how much great content is on Youtube. Facebook Video is unwatchable due to the incessant adverts rolling in the videos. Why not offer a premium service to have them removed?
Meta should be investing in verifying accounts of highly trafficked accounts and personalities by default, given the potential for those accounts to spread misinformation, scams or hate speech at scale.
What we are seeing here is a growing realisation that the ad-driven model that has supported the social giants will no longer give them the growth they crave. It’s the same reason that Netflix is now clamping down on password sharing. But consumers have options to go elsewhere or to opt out entirely. As Big Tech embraces the pay-to-play model for more aspects of its services, its a good opportunity to re-evaluate to what extent we need them.
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