Novel database reaches over 50,000 records in days

by Ashley Jace
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Verified Handles, a service that continuously describes itself as ‘combating impersonation’ launched in its new form under new management several days ago after JEM Media, its former parent company, announced its closing down.

On its trust and terms of service pages, the staff say they both create pages themselves with ‘strict guidelines’ and directly create records in collaboration with entities themselves such as a musician or politician.

Before I go into detail about the statistics behind this I want to mention they are open about not having any notability requirements so in theory anyone could send a few links to them and get a page which is highly appealing for many given it takes just seconds to fill out a Google Form and a page is made.

The site which was first published in 2020 but only very recently made public and expanded from a few pages, which felt more like a personal site, has now (according to its page list) got over 50,000 pages with more being added daily.

However, what could be so desirable that has meant the site has reached this size in such a short time where it would have taken any normal similar setup database site like it at least weeks to get such a number.

To be honest, I don’t know. As a web analyst and critic, this is a confusing one as its origins are unclear except for that it came after a rebrand from JEM but their website is as plain as a piece of white paper so I couldn’t gather anything from them.

There is a page on Verified Handles that interested me though, it’s called ‘the List’ and contains not just how many pages but a long list of every single page which seems unnecessary and their only reasoning for taking 7MB of my internet quota is that it helps ‘transparency’.

The first thing I noticed after going through a random selection of pages is that they vary greatly in the amount of content, in this case, it’s the number of social handles that the page contains. What interested me further though is that some pages had almost what seemed like a disclaimer saying this exactly, “This page was created by staff and has been independently reviewed for accuracy.” What does that mean or why is it there apart from telling visitors that the page was made by staff, thereby making it less accurate?

For me, this raises red flags about the accuracy of the site as according to their ‘trust’ page every page is 100% accurate but this disclaimer like notice seems to suggest otherwise.

That leads me nicely to the source of data, I understand if the individual or company that wants a page gives a list of handles they’ll likely be accurate however it seems impossible that in a matter of days without any press releases or advertising that they’d have over 50,000 people sent in entries.

Naturally, I sent a request for comment to them and they did reply but I sense they didn’t go into as much detail as they could have, all I got was and to quote “we source data from trusted and publicly available sources” and that’s it. No mention of what source or on what scale as to how can I or any data analyst be expected to go through that many pages to give any figures on how many or what type, company or individual, have the disclaimer.

And that’s, of course, assuming that these disclaimers that I mentioned earlier are representing the change in the data source to non-direct input rather than from entities themselves.

Back to the origins, it calls itself a non-profit and I have reason to believe that as when I went through some records randomly from the list I couldn’t see any ads or promotion, however, this does make me question the finances behind the ‘organisation’ as it looks like they have at least temporarily employed people or freelanced web designers to make the service in the first place and that’s not even mentioning how much it must cost to host the site and its curiously large database.

So to answer the main question – what purpose does the site serve and does it deliver what’s advertised? Well, it’s hard to properly answer given how new the site is and how little coverage it’s received so far which they can’t exactly blame anyone for given how discrete the service is at its current stage.

Does it combat impersonation? I think this depends on many factors, first, the entity has to actually have a page on the site which given its free isn’t that much of a criticism as they seemingly make it easy to get a page. Second, the service relies entirely on fans or customers actually going to their site to check a social which is harder said than done. Not only does a social media page have to look a bit off for someone to bother to check but they also have to know that the service even exists which unless the entity themselves advertises or puts obvious links, it seems very unlikely the average consumer would know about the site.

Then, of course, that’s all pointless if the links listed aren’t even accurate! Not that I can doubt that without evidence, it’ll be interesting to see if fact-checkers do start sweeping the site looking for flaws as surely there are some, I’ll keep an eye on the internet for any updates.

Speaking of links I’ve thought about requesting a page myself for a laugh (and of course to dig deeper into the service’s workings!) so you can find that at their site, Verified Handles.

Overall I’m curious to see where this site goes and ultimately if it’s actually used and by how many, if someone from Verified Handles is watching this please take my advice and add a view count to pages, and don’t fake it, I’ll know if you do!

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