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FB on verification trail: A case of a bit too late?

It’s a case of better late than never. Facebook let the problem brew for years, and there is nothing innovative that it is doing, when it announced last week its initiative to verify FB pages and profiles, read celebrities in the latter case.

The service necessarily means that Verification badges will appear in a number of places:

Next to the name of the Page
When hovering over the name of a Page
In Graph Search queries
In stories about people liking a Page
In News Feed ads for your Page

Who all are eligible for the badge? Celebrities, government officials, and popular brands and businesses. And me too (read journalists).

One of the Indian celebrities to first have a ‘Verified’ badge was Deepika Padukone who was so overwhelmed by Facebook’s gesture that she issued a press release to declare the same.

But ‘Verification’ has come a bit too late on Facebook. Twitter had it for a while now, ensuring fake profiles were under check – by now, users expect Twitter to know the ‘real’ from ‘fake’. Facebook, on the other hand, is going to have a tough time authenticating the official page particularly in the case of lesser known brands.

There are enough cases where lesser known brands, including media brands, largely a small or local business kinds, that don’t have an FB page and an ex-employee or someone in the organisation starts a page to show his/her liking for the ‘brand’ or to be able to execute an activity at that point in time and stops using the page thereafter. The readers soon start posting queries on the page – at times even complaints but there is no one to monitor or respond.

When the brand decides to get on to the social website ‘officially’, it faces two problems upfront — first, it may not have access to the desired, easier remembered URL extension any more, and second, how does it tell the world that it was the official page and wean the followers from the ‘unofficial’ one. Above all, how does it tell the owner of the other page to bring that page down. After all the other page did social service for the brand till date and had nothing negative to say about the publication. Big brands are known to benefit from fan-created pages but there can be a host of problems that need to be dealt with, when anyone can create a page, and unknowingly take away from the attention that the official page needs.

The dilemma increases for the lesser known brands or local businesses. I have yet to come across a brand using Whatsapp, or WeChat or Viber to engage with the customers or fans, yet it does have an authentication process of its own. These applications get activated only once the mobile number is authenticated by an SMS. Yet the system comes with its loopholes – for instance, it is not necessary that the app is being used on the SIM device; the verification code can be received on another device compatible with the app but that doesn’t matter much till the app is tethered to one number. The same goes for other social networks like Hangouts, which though allows access from multiple locations but considering that Google+ has a policy that people could add me to their circle without they being in my circle, the ‘verification’ service if extended to Google+, could get complicated.

But then let’s remember that Google+ isn’t used by many right now. So, when Google does decide to get a ‘Verified’ badge, it shouldn’t be that difficult to manage. Also the fact that when it comes to Google+, the accounts are largely an extension to accounts such as an email service or an official YouTube page, so when that integration happens chances are that there will be authentic pages. While we have heard at many forums that people like Google+ and would prefer it any day over FB but many celebrities are also quick to add that they manage the Google+ page themselves and allow their agency or PR team to handle the FB page. One reason could be the reluctance to hand over email account to the agency unless the email id has been created specifically to handle fans or PR queries. Another reason could also be that the services gets intertwined with one id – Email, Drive, YouTube, Hangouts, Analytics, AdSense/Adwords, Blogspot, Calendar, Forums, Play (Apps, Movies, Music) and even Maps. There’s quite a bit of personal, and at times sensitive, information to be handled over to an agency or a third-party PR official.

Meanwhile, Facebook just has one service – the profiles and the pages, which are basically real estate for acquiring ‘Likes’ and there aren’t too many intertwined services interdependent on one id – except may be for developers who make apps or  for administrators who control various many pages. But then, at the end of the day, what you really own are just pages. The menace of duplication becomes much larger in this case. And to clear it up, much bigger. Twitter realised it a bit early and got on the verification act quickly.

The challenge remains how Facebook will manage the multiple duplicates of the lesser known brands. And who classify for authentication. Can a layman claim ‘verification’? After all somebody could impostor someone for may be cheap thrills or even to harm public reputation. Or can a layman buy a ‘Verified’ badge? Or for that matter, smaller businesses. I remember my one year of stay in New Delhi. Every lane had an ‘Aggarwal Sweet House’ with a disclaimer, “We don’t have any branch.” There could be more than a thousand Aggarwal Sweet Shops in Delhi, which have no link with each other – and have independent proprietors. So if one of the Aggarwals was to get on to Facebook, others could rise in protest or could come up with their own. So which Page should get the ‘Verified’ badge?

But Aggarwals needn’t worry as of now as there isn’t any war ensuing anytime soon, as unlike Twitter, where high-profile accounts can request a verified status, Facebook isn’t accepting requests for verified status. For now, one has to wait for Facebook to make that decision for you.

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