When Forbes fashionista Hannah Elliott signed into Facebook this week, a "digital bouncer" asked if it could see her id. Facebook is in the process of verifying the accounts of "prominent public figures," reported TechCrunch Wednesday night, and Elliott, who has attracted more than 67,000 subscribers, qualifies. What's involved in verification? Giving Facebook a copy of your passport or driver's license. If you don't have one on hand, a birth certificate and social security card will do.
Facebook is following in the footsteps of Google+ and Twitter in offering to "verify" prominent folks' social media accounts, but it is the first to make a formal handover of government ID a part of that process. As Talking Points Memo notes, this should help Facebook avoid fiascos like Twitter's falsely verifying a parody Wendy Deng account as that of the real wife of Rupert Murdoch. Facebook told TechCrunch that it "permanently deletes" the forms of ID after verifying a person's identity — I certainly hope so; I can 'verify' that hanging on to people's social security numbers when you have no need for them is a terrible idea. (Facebook does ask folks to black out sensitive info on their IDs, mentioning credit card and driver's license numbers as examples. They should probably add SSN to that list.)
Given Facebook's touting of the benefits of a 'real name culture,' I'm left wondering if this will become standard for all users at some point in the future. It would go a long way in cutting down spam on the site, and would make Facebook the undisputed leader of 'real identity' on the Web. But anonymity or pseudonymity on the site — while frowned on now — would become an impossibility.
For now though, verification is for the popular kids only: "The new verification process is for anyone who has a large number of subscribers (not limited to celebrities) and is totally optional," says Facebook spokesperson Meredith Chin.
Not famous enough to get the invite from Facebook's bouncers to rock out in Club Verified? Here's what the process looks like.
Elliott got this notification at the top of her news feed when she signed in, suggesting she verify her account:
Clicking 'Verify' took her to the page below, asking her to upload ID:
Elliott then received a confirmation email.
One benefit to confirming your identity this way is getting to use a nickname. Facebook will still display a person's real name, but he or she can have the nickname be the more prominent one. Keeping the real name on display is a good security move, preventing someone from getting 'verified,' changing their name to someone else's, and then gallivanting around Facebook and the Web causing trouble.