Identity Verification Trends in Social Media

24 February 2012

Editor’s Note: Nate Gross is a Product Manager at Doximity.

Last week, Facebook began sending out notifications to celebrity account holders, letting them know that if they choose to verify their accounts by submitting a valid I.D., they now have the option to use a pseudonym on their profile (handy, if you go by J.Lo). It’s a small move, but a key one, as the company continues to intensify competition with Twitter.

Like Doximity, Facebook is a real-name network, meaning that the name on your profile is supposed to be a proxy for your real identity. It differs from Doximity, however, in that historically, it has had no system for verifying that users are who they say they are. Identity has been predicated on trust, and reinforced by photos, relationships and behavior.

Twitter, by contrast, has stayed on the outskirts of the real-name game. Users can tweet under given names, nicknames, made-up names, company names, or just about any other sort of name they can think of. This formula has proven incredibly useful in helping brands and public figures, as on Twitter there is no distinct account type such as seen with Facebook’s Pages. These are entities that aren’t necessarily looking for the kinds of bilateral connections obtained from linking up with colleagues or classmates. Instead, they’re seeking to spread messages with wide unilateral reach, and to accomplish this, they need to have account names that fans and users know, and can easily find and follow (the name of a brand, not its PR manager, for example).

To maintain the integrity of celebrity and brand accounts, Twitter started offering account verification in 2009. The service is limited, open only to select high-profile users, brands and partners, but from Twitter’s perspective, it’s also all that’s really needed. Indeed, shortly after Google+ launched, it, too, adopted this approach.

Unsurprisingly, for now, Facebook’s new verified accounts are also only available to users with a large subscriber base (the company’s unilateral “follow” feature). Yet the motivations driving public figures to verify their identities are becoming more broadly felt. As the number and complexity of activities we perform online proliferates, the value to being able to quickly and easily prove identity will only grow.

At Doximity, we verify each of our users; there’s no way to opt-out of the process. Ensuring identity is important not only for reputation protection and communique attribution, but also to establish a framework of trust, expertise and professionalism that mirrors physician interaction in the real world. That two medical professionals can refer a patient or curbside consult from across the country is a testament to professional rigour and educational standardization, facilitated and certified by medical identity. As the reach of physician identity extends online, it will drive countless opportunities for health care improvement.

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