Author: Taylor Hatmaker

You can now apply to get a verified badge on Instagram — here’s how

Instagram is at last quenching the thirst of its thirsty, thirsty unverified users.

The company just introduced a trio of new features designed to make Instagram a generally safer and more authentic place to hang out (third-party 2FA — enable it!) and for the first time the platform now offers users a straightforward way to request verification.

On Instagram, blue check marks are fairly rare, even among pretty big brands and public figures. Getting verified on the platform has long been the stuff of legend — no one quite knows what goes on behind the scenes but knowing a guy doesn’t hurt. Remarkably, there’s even a super sketchy black market where people charge thousands of bucks to hook you up with verified status (or more likely to just rip you off). The whole thing has always been kind of mysterious, with little blue checks quietly sprinkled around in no discernible pattern.

It looks like those days are over. While it’s too early to tell if Instagram will be handing out more verified badges to users, they’ve at least made the process much more transparent. Now, any user can request to be verified with a few steps. As a note: In our testing, the option to request verification is live now in iOS but hasn’t yet popped up in the updated Android app.

If you’re curious if you might qualify to begin with, here’s how Instagram framed the new verification system in its latest announcement:

… The blue verified badge is an important way for you to know that the account you are interacting with is the authentic presence of a notable public figure, celebrity, global brand or entity. Today we are enabling a new way for accounts that reach large audiences and meet our criteria to request verification through a form within the Instagram app.

Does that sound like you? Here’s what you need to do.

1) Request Verification

From your profile, navigate to the Settings menu and then find an option to “Request Verification.”2) Show your stuff

Provide the relevant documents. Instagram accepts government-issued IDs (driver’s license, passport or other national ID cards). In lieu of that, you can submit official documents like a utility bill, tax filing or article of incorporation. These documents won’t be public on your profile.

If your official documentation isn’t a match for your legal name, you might be out of luck. We’ve asked Instagram to clarify if these documents need to match your account information exactly or if they just need them on file for reference.

3) Wait and wonder

Wait while Instagram reviews your request. Instagram says that you’ll receive a notification letting you know if you’ve been approved or rejected, so look out for that. If you are rejected you can reapply after 30 days.

Tips and requirements

Before you apply, it’s worth reading over what Instagram requires for a verified account. According to its hub on verified badges, Instagram will evaluate your account for “authenticity, uniqueness, completeness and notability” — the criteria it must meet in addition to abiding by the platform’s terms of service.

What do those things mean? Instagram defines an authentic account as one that “represent[s] a real person, registered business or entity.”

When Instagram demands an account be “unique” what it really means is that it intends to only approve one account per business or individual except in cases of “language-specific accounts.” Instagram reminds users that it “[doesn’t] verify general interest accounts (example: @puppymemes).”

To make sure your account is complete, it must be public, with a profile photo, bio and one post minimum. Importantly, Instagram stipulates that your account “can’t contain ‘add me’ links to other social media services,” so prune anything like that.

The last criterion is the toughest. Instagram requires that your account be “notable.” You might think that your account is [100 emoji], but unless you are a “well-known, highly searched for person, brand or entity” you probably won’t make the cut. Instagram explains further that it reviews accounts “featured in multiple news sources” and paid content doesn’t count. While Instagram’s process is way more transparent now, this bit does leave some room for interpretation.

Even with the new request form, keep in mind that most users won’t make the cut. Historically, it’s kind of unpredictable. Popular users who seem like a no-brainer for a verified account sometimes don’t have verified status, while others with a far less substantial public profile do. Even here at TC, some of us (like @panzer with his assiduous sneaker content) sport a little blue check while others don’t. We don’t know if there is more rhyme or reason to verification now, but at least the process is public and available for everyone.

Instagram announces verification requests, transparency tools and stronger 2FA

Instagram has introduced a wide-ranging set of new tools today with security and transparency in mind. In a blog post titled “New Tools to Keep Instagram Safe,” the company is announcing three significant updates: an “About This Account” section to provide users more context about accounts with large followings, a form through which accounts can request a coveted blue verified badge and support for third-party authenticator apps.

Instagram’s new “About This Account” section is designed to give users more information that they can use when evaluating the legitimacy of an account. The feature will be available by tapping the menu button from an account with substantial reach and will provide information like when an account was created, the country in which it is based, accounts that share followers and a lineage of that account’s username changes over the last year.

The feature will also link accounts with large audiences to the Instagram ads they are running, a nod to recent conversations around ad transparency in light of Russian government-sponsored political ads and disinformation seeping into social platforms.

According to Instagram, “In September, people who have accounts that reach large audiences can review the information about their accounts that will soon be publicly available.” When that period is over, the About This Account tool will launch to users around the globe.

The second major Instagram change will offer accounts a path toward verification on the platform, standardizing a process that’s generally been opaque. A blue verified badge can be requested through a user’s own profile by tapping the menu icon, choosing Settings, and “Request Verification.” Instagram will then review the request, asking users to “provide your account username, your full name and a copy of your legal or business identification,” information that will not be made available to the public.

Last but certainly not least, Instagram is adding support for third-party authenticator apps like Google Authenticator and DUO Mobile that provide more robust methods of two-factor authentication (2FA). The move is a long-anticipated effort to make Instagram more robust against threats to user accounts that target text-based 2FA, which is notoriously vulnerable to sim hijacking attacks.

“We’ve been focused on the safety of our platform since the very beginning, and today’s updates build upon our existing tools, such as our spam and abusive content filters and the ability to report or block accounts,” Instagram co-founder and CTO Mike Krieger said in a statement about the updates.

“We know we have more work to do to keep bad actors off Instagram, and we are committed to continuing to build more tools to do just that.”

Facebook comms VP Rachel Whetstone is heading to Netflix

In Facebook’s latest highprofile departure, corporate communications lead Rachel Whetstone will leave for a top PR role at Netflix. Whetstone joined Facebook about a year ago after leaving a similar position running communications at Uber during some of the company’s most fraught days. Prior to Uber, Whetstone worked for Google as its SVP of communications and public policy.

Facebook confirmed Whetstone’s departure, which was first reported by Recode. “It’s been amazing to be able to learn from one of the best over this last year,” FB Comms VP Caryn Marooney said in a statement provided to TechCrunch. “We are grateful for what Rachel has brought to our team and we know she will have continued success at Netflix.”

Whetstone won’t be leaving Facebook for another few months still as the company prepares for the transition. After her departure, Caryn Marooney will return to leading Facebook’s global communications team, a role she shared during Whetstone’s time with the company.

In a separate statement today, Netflix welcomed its new hire. “Rachel is a proven communications leader and a strong addition to the Netflix team,” said Netflix CEO Reed Hastings in a statement. “Her deep knowledge and international expertise will be invaluable as we bring Netflix and its expanding lineup of original content to an increasingly global audience.”

At Netflix, Whetstone will replace former PR head Jonathan Friedland, who created his own PR crisis at the company earlier this summer when he was fired for his use of a racial slur.

Facebook and Microsoft briefed state officials on election security efforts today

So much for summer Fridays. Yesterday, BuzzFeed reported that a dozen tech companies, including Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Snapchat, would meet at Twitter headquarters on Friday to discuss election security. For two of them, that wasn’t the only meeting in the books.

In what appears to be a separate event on Friday, Facebook and Microsoft also met with the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and two bodies of state election officials, the National Association of State Election Directors (NASED) and the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS), about their election security efforts.

The discussion was the second of its kind connecting DHS, Facebook and state election officials on “actions being taken to combat malicious interference operations.” The meetings offer two very different perspectives on threats to election security. States are largely concerned with securing voter databases and election systems, while private tech companies are waging a very public war against coordinated disinformation campaigns by U.S. foreign adversaries on their platforms. Social media platforms and election systems themselves are two important yet usually disconnected fronts in the ongoing war against Russian election interference.

“Effectively combatting coordinated information operations requires many parts of society working together, which is why Facebook believes so strongly in the need for collaboration between law enforcement, government agencies, security experts and other companies to confront these growing threats,” Facebook VP of Public Policy Kevin Martin said of the meeting.

“We are grateful for the opportunity to brief state election officials on a recent call convened by DHS and again today as part of our continued effort to develop collaborative relationships between government and private industry.”

Curiously, while Microsoft and Facebook attended the DHS-hosted meeting, it doesn’t look like Twitter did. To date, Twitter and Facebook have faced the most fallout for foreign interference on their platforms meant to influence American politics, though Google was also called to Congress to testify on the issue last fall. When reached, Twitter declined to comment on its absence, though the company was reportedly playing host to the other major tech election security meeting today.

The meeting with state officials sounds like it was largely informative in nature, with Facebook and Microsoft providing insight on their respective efforts to contain foreign threats to election integrity. On Tuesday, Microsoft revealed that its Digital Crimes Unit secured a court order to take down six domains created by Russia’s GRU designed to phish user credentials. Half of the phishing domains were fake versions of U.S. Senate websites.

“No one organization, department or individual can solve this issue alone, that’s why information sharing is so important,” said Microsoft VP of Customer Security and Trust Tom Burt. “To really be successful in defending democracy, technology companies, government, civil society, the academic community and researchers need to come together and partner in new and meaningful ways.”

Facebook VP of partnerships Dan Rose is leaving the company

Facebook’s vice president of partnerships Dan Rose will leave the company early next year. Rose announced the move on his public Facebook page, indicating that he would stay on through Mobile World Congress in February.

During his long tenure at the company, Rose oversaw Facebook’s transformation into a media giant, steering it toward partnerships with TV networks and traditional news publishers.

In a comment on his announcement, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg summarized Rose’s influence on Facebook’s direction over the years.

“Your idea that we should be a partnership company and work closely with others in the industry has been key to some of our greatest successes,” Sandberg said. “I’ve been lucky to have you not just as a colleague but a friend – and you will always be a part of the Facebook family.”

Per his Facebook post, Rose will step down from his post to spend more time with his wife and children, who relocated to Hawaii a year ago.

“Mark and Sheryl changed my life and my career. I would walk through fire for them, or fly across the ocean on a regular basis,” Rose said. “But they deserve someone in my role who is present and fully engaged every day in the many opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.”

Rose sounds like he’ll be involved in the search for his replacement and the transition, leaving the door open to remaining involved and “helping Facebook from a distance.”

Prior to his time at Facebook, Rose spent seven years at Amazon as a director of business development in the Kindle’s early days. Rose is the latest major departure announcement from Facebook in recent months, following the planned exit of chief legal officer Colin Stretch and chief security officer Alex Stamos.

You can read Rose’s full announcement, embedded below.

I have some news to share about my personal situation. I am moving to Hawaii and transitioning out of my current role at…

Posted by Dan Rose on Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Facebook is the recruiting tool of choice for far-right group the Proud Boys

Twitter may have suspended the Proud Boys and their controversial leader Gavin McInnes, but it was never their platform of choice.

The Proud Boys, a self described “Western chauvinist” organization that often flirts with more hard-line groups of the far right, runs an elaborate network of recruiting pages on Facebook to attract and initiate members. While McInnes maintained a presence on many platforms, Facebook is the heart of the group’s operations. It’s there that the Proud Boys boast more than 35 regional and city-specific groups that act as landing pages for vetting thousands of new members and feeding them into local chapters.

When it comes to skirting the outer boundaries of social acceptability, McInnes could teach a master class. The Vice founder and Canadian citizen launched his newest project in 2016, capturing a groundswell of public political activity on the far right and launching the Proud Boys, a men’s club allied around the mantra “West is best,” its dedication to Trump and a prohibition against flip-flops and porn.

Facebook recruiting

The group makes national headlines for its involvement in violent dust-ups between the far right and far left and has a robust recruitment network centered on initiating members through Facebook groups. As for where it fits into the far right’s many sub-factions, McInnes objects to the term alt-light, sometimes used to describe far right group that oppose some mainstream conservative ideals but don’t openly endorse white nationalism. “Alt Light is a gay term that sounds like a diet soda in bed w Alt Right,” he said on Twitter last year. “We’re “The New Right.”

To that end, most regional affiliate pages run a message outlining some ground rules, including a declaration that its members not be racist or homophobic — a useful disclaimer for making the group more palatable than many of its less clever peers.

The Proud Boys’ agenda is less explicitly race-based than many groups it has affiliations with, espousing instead a broad sort of antagonism to perceived enemies on the political left and a credo of “western chauvinism.” The language is cleaned up, but it’s one degree removed from less palatable figures, including Unite the Right leader Jason Kessler. McInnes hosted Kessler on his own talk show just days after Kessler led the Charlottesville rally that left counter-protester Heather Heyer dead. In the segment, McInnes tried to create space between Kessler and the Proud Boys, though it wasn’t Kessler’s first time on the show or his only affiliation with the Proud Boys.

The Proud Boys also coordinates with the Vancouver, Washington-based group known as Patriot Prayer, another fairly social media-savvy far right organization that doesn’t openly endorse explicitly white nationalist groups, but still welcomes them into the fold during demonstrations that often turn violent.

Who are the Proud Boys?

Like much of the young, internet-fluent alt-right, the Proud Boys intentionally don’t take themselves too seriously, a strategy that conveniently opens the door for them to denounce any kind of controversy that might arise. They show up to protests wearing black and gold Fred Perry polo shirts, have a whole charter’s worth of inside jokes and in general seem a bit more media and internet savvy than hardline white nationalist groups, some of which Facebook has managed to clear out in the last year.

Unlike some less strategic and internet-savvy portions of the far right, McInnes and his Proud Boys are careful not to openly encourage preemptive violence. Still, the Proud Boys do encourage retaliatory violence, going so far as to enshrine physical altercations in its organizational hierarchy.

To earn their “first degree,” Proud Boys must openly declare their allegiance to the group’s ideals, usually in a Facebook vetting group.

To earn the second, they have to get beaten up by other members while naming five breakfast cereals (maybe a loose tie-in to the group’s mantra against masturbation). To earn the third degree they have to get a Proud Boys tattoo. The fourth degree is reserved for members who get in a brawl sufficient for the honor:

“You can’t plan getting a fourth degree. Its a consolation prize for engaging in a major conflict for the cause. Being arrested is not encouraged, although those who are immediately become fourth degree because the court has registered a major conflict. Serious physical fights also count and it’s up to each chapter to decide how serious the conflict must be to determine a fourth degree.”

That’s where the Proud Boys Facebook network comes in. To get accepted into a local chapter, prospective members join specific vetting groups and are asked to upload a video of them meeting their “first degree” requirements:

“Once you are added here, to be properly vetted you must upload and post a video of yourself reciting our First Degree. This is just a quick video of you saying EXACTLY THIS:

“My name is [full name], I’m from [city, state], and I am a western chauvinist who refuses to apologize for creating the modern world.” You can add anything else you’d like to your video, as long as you say those words exactly.

YouTube is full of first and second degree videos depicting the usually short half-ironic hazing ceremonies.

Facebook also hosts pages dedicated to the Fraternal Order of the Alt-Knights, a new-ish subdivision of the Proud Boys and its paramilitary wing. The Alt-Knights, also known as FOAK, are led by Kyle Chapman, a.k.a. “Based Stickman,” a far right figure who grew to fame after beating political enemies with a stick at a 2017 Berkeley protest. The Alt-Knights aren’t always quite as careful to denounce violence.

Whether the Proud Boys are in violation of Facebook’s unevenly enforced and sometimes secretive policies or not, the organization is making the most of its time on the platform. Facebook has rules against organizing harm or credible violence that the Proud Boys’ brawling ethos and alt-knights would seem to run afoul of, but the group stands by the useful mantra “We don’t start fights, we finish them.”

TechCrunch reached out to the Proud Boys to get an idea of their membership numbers and will update this story if we receive a reply. An analysis of affiliated pages shows that Proud Boys groups have added hundreds of members in the last 30 days across many chapters.

With a second Unite the Right rally around the corner and the ugly reality of more real-life violence organized on social media looming large, platforms are on their toes for once. Facebook has cleaned up some of the rampant racism that stemmed from the extreme right presence on its platform, but savvier, self-censoring groups like the Proud Boys are likely to be the real headache as Facebook, Twitter and Google trudge through an endless minefield of case-by-case terms of service violations, drawing sharp criticism from both sides of the political spectrum no matter where they choose to place their feet.

Some Infowars tweets vanished today, but Twitter didn’t remove them

A handful of tweets and videos that appear to have been cited in the choice to remove Alex Jones from Facebook and YouTube vanished from Twitter on Thursday after being called out in a CNN piece focused on the company’s hypocrisy.

Twitter confirmed to TechCrunch that it did not remove the tweets in question and that someone affiliated with Alex Jones and Infowars or with access to those accounts is behind the removal. The tweets in question spanned the Infowars brand, including accusations that Sandy Hook was staged by crisis actors, slurs against transgender people and a video asserting that Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg is a Nazi.

All of the tweets CNN linked are no longer available, suggesting that Jones might be trying to walk a narrow line on the platform, keeping most of the Infowars content up even as users and reporters surface some of its most objectionable moments. We reached out to Infowars for the reasoning behind taking down the posts and will update this story when we hear more.

On Wednesday in an internal memo that was later tweeted, Twitter’s VP of trust & safety made the claim that if Jones had posted the same content on Twitter that had resulted in action on other platforms, Twitter would have acted, too.

“… At least some of the content Alex Jones published on other platforms (e.g. Facebook and YouTube) that led them to taking enforcement actions against him would also have violated our policies had he posted it on Twitter,” Twitter’s Del Harvey said. “Had he done so, we would have taken action against him as well.”

On Thursday, CNN called Twitter’s bluff. The news site found that the same content that got Jones and Infowars booted from other platforms “were still live on Twitter as of the time this article was published,” according to CNN.

In spite of the missing tweets, at the time of writing, the accounts of both Infowars and Alex Jones remained online and tweeting. In fact, just 30 minutes ago, Infowars accused former president Obama of a “deep state” scheme to purge Infowars from tech platforms.