New research commissioned by Clean Up The Internet has found that just under four-fifths (78%) of UK social media users believe that it would be helpful to be able to see which social media accounts have been verified, to help them avoid scams. Almost as many also said being able to see which accounts have been verified would help with identifying bullies or trolls (77%); spotting false or misleading news stories (72%); and buying products or services (68%).
These findings lend further weight to research which we published in April 2023, which found that the ability to create anonymous and deceptive social media accounts is a key enabler of online fraud, and that users being able to check other users' verification status could be a very significant fraud prevention measure. It also echoes findings from regulator Ofcom, published in March 2023, that a ‘warning from the platform that content or messages come from an unverified source’ is the most popular measure platforms could introduce to help users avoid getting drawn into scams.
We commissioned this fresh research to encourage the government to amend the Online Safety Bill, to require platforms to offer those users who choose to verify their identity an option to make the fact that they are verified visible to other users. The research found that if social media platforms did offer users this choice, 74% of UK users said they would be willing to allow other users to see their “verified” status.
It’s not surprising that there is such a high level of public appetite to be able to see whether or not other accounts are verified, or willingness amongst users to share their own verification status with others. The public understands that identity concealment and deception on social media currently enable a vast amount of harmful online behaviour, and recognises that robust, universally available, visible verification would be a powerful impediment to those who wish to use fake and deceptive accounts to harm other users.
Nor is it surprising that appetite for these measures is particularly high when it comes to avoiding online scams. Fraud is a rising problem in the UK. The government’s Crime Survey for England and Wales found that fraud is the most commonly experienced crime in England and Wales, with 3.8 million offences accounting for 41% of all crimes. The police body responsible for fraud, Action Fraud, reports that over 80% of fraud is cyber-enabled, with Ofcom estimating that 23% of fraud is initiated on social media. That is a huge amount of crime, and its impact is widely felt. An effective User Verification Duty in the Online Safety Bill could be a simple and cheap way of driving these numbers down.
If verification status was visible, “check if the account is verified” could become a very simple, and very powerful, piece of advice for consumers. Without this visibility, the impact of the User Verification Duty will be greatly reduced, which would be a huge missed opportunity. This latest research suggests that tightening up the User Verification Duty, to ensure users can allow other users to see that they are verified and act upon that knowledge, would be popular as well as effective.
The research was carried out by independent polling and research company Opinium. The total sample size was 2077 adults, and fieldwork was undertaken between 14th and 16th June 2023. The figures have been weighted to be nationally and politically representative of all UK adults. The full results table is available here.