Meta verification subscription service signals end to data for free services

On 19 February 2023, Meta founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the launch of a paid subscription service, “Meta Verified”, which will allow Facebook and Instagram users to verify their accounts. Previously, verified badges were reserved for public figures or businesses, and were free of charge. But now users will be able to get a blue verification badge, by paying a fee of US$11.99-$14.99 a month.

This new feature also provides users extra impersonation protection, direct access to customer support, and greater visibility in searches and recommendations.

This announcement follows a stream of  paid services announced by online platforms and social media sites. For example, in June 2022, Snapchat launched “Snapchat Plus” which provides users with longer story expiration and custom app icons, and in December 2022, Elon Musk rolled out “Twitter Blue” to allows user to verify their Twitter accounts. This latest move could, therefore, foreshadow a future in which free social media services are phased out.

The intention is for Meta Verified to help prevent digital identity theft or impersonation by having users submit a form of Government ID to get the verified badge. This should help reduce the number of profiles imitating individuals from becoming verified. In this regard, Meta are already one step ahead of Twitter which saw its initial roll out of Twitter Blue marred by a proliferation of fake accounts being verified because users were not required to provide identification in order for the account to be verified. This caused some embarrassing mix-ups, with pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Company forced to apologise after a fake account posing as them tweeted “we are excited to announce insulin is free now”.

For Meta, the financial benefit of this launch is key. Until now, Facebook and Instagram have operated on an advertising-based business model. However, recent changes made by Apple in 2021 have restricted Meta's ability to track users' internet activity, a key source of data for targeted adverts to users. The release of Meta Verified indicates that Meta is considering pursuing a subscription-based model, a surprise after Zuckerberg stated in 2018 that he was focused on providing “a free service that everyone can use”. The value is in the figures; it is hypothesised that if just 2% of Instagram users paid US$11.99 a month for the verification badge, Meta would make US$3.6 billion annually.

Whilst Meta Verified is a welcomed subscription for those who are concerned with protecting their identity online, the launch could alienate users who may not want to pay for premium features or would rather pay for a feature that would further protect their personal data and reduce features like targeted advertising.