You don’t need a badge to have credibility

Remember the craze for fancy registration numbers on vehicles — as a status symbol? I used to wonder why people paid through their noses to get numbers that could be easily remembered and jotted down by traffic cops for violations! The fad to stand out can be equated to the present day ‘Verified’ badges on social media accounts. The only difference is that Government departments followed some method in the madness — even auctioning fancy numbers and charging a premium. The social media prefers a veil of secrecy — using its own internal yardstick to determine who is a celebrity and what is a parody or fake account. Four years after twitter launched its verified accounts, Facebook decided to dish out its version last week. Here again, it seems like an arbitrary exercise leaving users guessing about their eligibility for the ‘exalted’ status. The announcement was cryptic: “Verified Pages will help people find the authentic accounts of celebrities and other high-profile people and businesses on Facebook. This update is rolling out to profiles as well.”

The clamour for this ‘badge of honour’ as it were, is misplaced. Just like Tom Cruise told US Marines who were ‘dishonourably discharged’ by a Court Martial in the Hollywood blockbuster ‘A Few Good Men’: “You don’t need a badge to have honour”, I’d say that you don’t need to be ‘verified’ to have credibility on the social media. Or have a certain number of followers or friends to have ‘standing’ on Twitter or Facebook. I have seen mails that promise a chunk of followers for a fee. I’m sure there are public figures who have a genuine following, just as there are those who probably shelled out big bucks to boost their social media status. Your standing on these platforms should be determined by the quality of your tweets or timeline posts, how you disagree with someone, whether you are abusive or have, at any point, set the ball ‘trolling’!

For that matter, how will the social media resolve a toss up between different individuals with the same names but from different professions? If it’s Sachin Tendulkar in cricket, then there is only one “God”. What if there is an equally accomplished Sachin Tendulkar in business or academic circles? Take my own name for instance. There is another Sanjay Pinto who is a PhD Scholar from Harvard, another from the hospitality industry in Mumbai. So who gets the ‘Certified’ badge? Do you go by the number of followers or friends? Or a ‘first come, first verified’ basis, like the availability of email IDs? It would make sense for the social media sites to at least have a profession along with the name like ‘Sachin Tendulkar — Sport’, ‘Prannoy Roy — Television News’, ‘Shashi Tharoor — Politics’ and so on.

If certifying users is a hush hush affair, Facebook’s temporary month-long ban on users sending friend requests or messages to those it considers ‘strangers’ leaves many unanswered questions. The logic that an unconfirmed friend request or one sent to a user with nil or very few mutual friends, implies it was sent to a stranger, is flawed. What if the ‘befriended’ user is a new comer to Facebook and has no mutual friends? Or, if the user is inactive and does not see and therefore doesn’t confirm a friend request? What is the time frame within which a friend request must be accepted before Facebook jumps to the conclusion that it was sent to a stranger? Why can’t such information be put out in the public domain?

The existing option to “let us know” if users feel the ban is not justified, comes across as a half measure. Clearly, Facebook doesn’t seem to believe in the ‘benefit of doubt’ doctrine. Can’t the networking site can do its due diligence to check the social standing or the number of pending friend requests of a user before waving the red card? Or does it feel that it’s better to be paranoid than be accused of not having checks in place. On that note, does the same paranoia go on a holiday when vulgar and defamatory content show up on Confessions Pages? Is enough being done to prevent paedophiles or kidnappers from luring unsuspecting victims? Meanwhile, users will propose marriage on the social media, maybe even to total strangers! Will Facebook “let us know” what it is doing about all that and more?

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