New references in Instagram’s code suggest the company could be developing a paid verification feature following the rollout of a similar system at Twitter under Elon Musk. Recently discovered code snippets reference explicitly refer to a “paid blue badge” and a new subscription product, a developer has discovered. The same reference also appears in the latest build of the Facebook app, indicating paid verification could be offered across Meta’s platforms if the product continued to be developed.
The discovery was made by developer and reverse engineer Alessandro Paluzzi, who has previously spotted a number of new Instagram features before they launch, including the in-app scheduling tool that launched in November as well as the newer QR code sharing features. He’s also regularly spotted other internal prototypes, like Instagram’s Candid Challenges, and features in development with Twitter.
Typically, Instagram confirms its smaller tests or prototypes when discovered, but in the case of the paid verification option, the company chose not to comment.
Given Paluzzi’s track record, however, it’s worth at least speculating why Instagram could be weighing a decision around paid verification.
Specifically, Paluzzi shared with TechCrunch screenshots in the app’s code which included lines referencing “IG_NME_PAID_BLUE_BADGE_IDV” and “FB_NME_PAID_BLUE_BADGE_IDV.” He suggested that, given the context, “IDV” could mean identity verification — as that’s also a known meaning for the acronym.
In addition, the developer told us he found other references to a new type of subscription product that hadn’t been there previously. The same references were also in one of the latest builds of the Facebook app, he noted.
Still, Paluzzi cautioned that there’s nothing yet visible in the app itself beyond these small code references, so we can only speculate on these findings for the time being.
Still, it’s fun speculation to be had, especially considering the misery that’s today’s Instagram verification system.
The subject of numerous complaints over the years, Instagram’s verification system is obtuse, complicated, and seemingly random, due to its reliance on automation. Although Instagram in 2018 began allowing users to request verification, the overall system itself hasn’t changed much, despite Instagram head Adam Mosseri’s promise that account verification would be a focus of improvement back in 2020.
Currently, the coveted blue badge is still only awarded to high-profile individuals, celebrities, and global brands or entities. But everyday users and smaller creators have long sought similar recognition. That’s led to a multi-million dollar shadow market for verification where people pay thousands of dollars for the blue badges through backchannel means. Last year, in fact, a ProPublica investigation revealed one of the largest Instagram verification schemes to date, which resulted in Meta having to remove illicitly gained badges from hundreds of accounts. In other words, there’s clearly demand for paid verification.
That’s something Elon Musk believes as well, as he quickly made paid verification a key selling point for Twitter’s revamped Twitter Blue subscription. Unfortunately, Twitter’s implementation was not well thought-out, leading to widespread impersonation on the network as users changed their names and profile photos to well-known individuals or brands, which then caused serious mischief. Twitter had to almost immediately pause paid verification and retool, ultimately relaunching with gold badges for businesses and additional verification steps.
Though Twitter’s initial attempts to monetize verification were chaotic, that doesn’t mean the idea itself has no value. Plus, advances in A.I. could help improve the verification process. Already, Instagram uses A.I. in other parts of its app — like finding which accounts belong to kids who lied about their age as well as content recommendations.
In addition, Twitter isn’t the only major social app testing consumer demand for paid subscriptions. Snapchat also caters to its power users with a Snapchat+ subscription that offers a laundry list of perks and extra features. During this week’s earnings call, the company announced it had grown Snapchat+ to over 2 million subscribers in just over half a year’s time.
If it chose, Instagram could offer a subscription bundle to its own power users, which could include a paid blue badge and other features. While it’s not clear at the time that’s what it has in the works, it would be interesting to see such a product come to fruition.
Sarah Perez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 415.234.3994 on Signal.