Meta to test verified subscription on Facebook, Instagram. What can users expect?

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With Meta testing its verified subscription service, Canadian social media experts are warning the move could further fuel disinformation on the company’s platforms.

Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, announced on Feb. 19 that it is testing a monthly subscription service, called Meta Verified.

In a news release, Meta said the goal is to help content creators grow and build communities.

What is Meta Verified and how does it work?

Meta Verified is rolling out in Australia and New Zealand this week, where users could get a blue badge by verifying their accounts using a government ID and paying a fee of USD $11.99 per month on the web or USD $14.99 a month on Apple’s iOS system and Android.

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In addition, the subscription bundle for Instagram and Facebook claims to include extra protection against impersonation — a move experts say could be a sign the company is taking lessons from highly criticized impersonation issues at competitor Twitter.

“This additional step of government-issued ID is something that it is doing to try and make sure that people don’t impersonate one another with a verified account,” said Richard Lachman, an associate professor at the RTA School of Media at the Toronto Metropolitan University.

“That’s a huge learning from Twitter.”

While the company “has definitely learned” from Twitter’s mistakes, Meta should “put the right security protocols in place” when asking users to provide their government ID to prevent any form of data breach, said Ritesh Kotak, a Toronto-based cybersecurity and technology analyst.

The social media company, he said, needs to “make sure that when the data is being transferred to Meta, it is encrypted and that the information provided is only used for verification purposes.”

“Once the verification is done, (they need to make sure) that all copies are deleted and not available on their system,” Kotak added.

He said these steps should be the “bare minimum” that Meta takes to protect user information.

However, Lachman said users will have to be more critical when coming across any piece of information from an account that has paid for verification on Facebook and Instagram.

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“The biggest effect to those of us regular users is that it’s some additional piece we can look at when we can say, ‘Is this a trusted post? Is this a piece of information I can rely on?'” Lachman said. “We know that there’s been misinformation on social media platforms for a long time.”

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Meta said the new service will be rolled out in more countries “soon,” but it is unclear when will this service be launched in Canada.

Users must subscribe on each app separately to use Meta Verified on both Instagram and Facebook, according to the company.

The announcement of the subscription services comes after Twitter announced last month that Twitter Blue will be priced at $11 per month.

Prior to that, Twitter launched a service granting blue-check “verification” labels to anyone willing to pay US$8 a month, but the tool was taken down shortly after seeing an increase of imposter accounts — including some that sent major company stock prices tanking.

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Businesses are not eligible to apply for Meta Verified at this time.

Other social media apps, like Snap Inc’s Snapchat and messaging app Telegram launched paid subscription services last year as a new source of revenue.

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Experts fear 'social media hierarchy'

Kotak said the extra protection against impersonation and the direct account support that comes with Meta Verified should be included in the first place for free.

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“I think that there is a duty for these platforms to protect user information,” said Kotak. “To charge somebody to say you get additional protection from these types of these types of issues in itself is problematic.”

However, Kotak added, other features to boost the visibility of accounts using the service do make sense for content creators to purchase.

Aimée Morrison, an associate professor of English at the University of Waterloo, told Global News that she fears the paid verification service is going to create a hierarchy on social media platforms

Morrison said she worries the “personal elements” of social media, including the original draw of these platforms as facilitating socialization with friends and family, is disappearing as companies trying to launch more subscription services.

“The original value proposition of most social media for people was that it was a place that anyone could connect with anyone they were interested in connecting with,” Morrison said.  “It was a non-hierarchical space in which either your relationships are based on reciprocal friendships.”

— With files from Reuters

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