The day of reckoning has finally come for legacy verified accounts on Twitter, with owner Elon Musk following through on his threat to remove all of the 400k or so previously verified checkmarks that had been allocated in the app before the arrival of Twitter Blue, which means that the only checkmarks displayed on user profiles after today, will be from paying users.
First, there are the gold checkmarks for brands. Twitter’s actually gifted these new ticks to its top 500 advertisers, as well as the top 10,000 most-followed organizations in the app, as a means to boost broader take-up of its business verification program. So a lot of brand accounts already have this new indicator of authenticity, and they’re not paying for it, while these businesses are also able to allocate blue checkmarks to staff, which will now appear in the app alongside a small brand logo beside their username.
Along with this, Elon has also gifted blue checkmarks to a range of high-profile users, which he claims to be paying for ‘personally’.
Though at least some are not overly pleased at the perception that they’re paying.
My Twitter account says I’ve subscribed to Twitter Blue. I haven’t.— Stephen King (@StephenKing) April 20, 2023
My Twitter account says I’ve given a phone number. I haven’t.
This is the problem – because Elon has eroded the perceived value of the blue tick in the app, by selling it to anyone who’s able to pay, it’s now meaningless, and possibly even worse, with some even viewing it as a negative marker, now that the older blue ticks have been taken away.
A lot of users don’t want to be associated with Elon’s new non-verification verification process, and for them, actually having the tick is a stamp of shame, to some degree.
That’s reflective of just how much damage Elon’s updated verification scheme has done to this once-vaunted feature, and soon, even fewer people are likely to want a blue tick, at a time when Twitter really needs to maximize take-up to boost revenue intake from the program.
For context, Elon’s initial aim was to eventually generate 50% of Twitter’s revenue from subscriptions. That would require around 24 million users signing up for Twitter Blue, which, at present, has around 600k subscribers.
So it’s a long way off, but Twitter also now has its Verification for Organizations program, which will see brands paying $1,000 per month, while Elon also seems to have toned down his expectations on subscription revenue.
In a recent interview with the BBC, Elon said that:
“Well, I don’t think [subscriptions are] necessarily a giant revenue stream, [but] even if you have a million people that are subscribed for, let’s say, a hundred dollars a year ish, that’s a hundred million dollars. That’s a fairly small revenue stream relative to advertising, but what we’re really trying to do here with verification is to massively raise the cost of disinformation and bots in general.”
So it sounds like Elon’s no longer aiming for massive take-up. Yet, at the same time, for the program to be an effective deterrent for spammers and scammers, as Musk notes, he would still need huge take-up, as the idea is that, eventually, the only non-verified users could be easily identified as bot accounts. If the take-up for Twitter Blue remains low, then those bot accounts will still look like the vast majority of other Twitter profiles, while it could actually make the bot/scam situation worse by enabling widespread impersonation of any celebrity who doesn’t pay for a blue tick.
And even if they do, it doesn’t mean anything anymore, and nobody trusts that a blue checkmark represents a credible, notable, trustworthy entity, as they would have in the past.
Now, it generally just means that this person or profile supports Elon Musk, and his various reformations at the app. The blue tick is a buy-in to Elon’s schemes – which is why most users are simply not going to pay.
Factoring in all of these considerations, it’s hard to even tell what Elon’s aim is with his verification program.
Again, on the one hand, Twitter needs to make money. The platform has lost 50% of its ad revenue since Musk took over, and it’s nowhere close to recouping that through subscriptions.
But Elon also says that making money isn’t really his aim:
“I don’t care about the money, really, but I do want to have some source of truth that I can count on. And I hope that’s our aspiration with Twitter, is to have a source of truth that you can count on. But it’s also real time. It’s an immediate source of truth that you can count on and that gets more accurate with time as people comment on a particular thing.”
The reformation of its verification program is also supposed to get closer to this aim, with Musk recently noting in an interview at the POSSIBLE marketing conference that:
“The thing that a lot of traditional journalists don’t like is they don’t like being put on the same platform as the average citizen, they don’t like their voice being the same – they’re pretty mad about that.”
Musk has repeatedly criticized traditional media as biased, and driven by political agendas, at the whims of their management. In his view, enabling ‘citizen journalism’, by making verification a level playing field for all, will help to address this.
Again, from his recent interview with BBC:
“I think in a lot of cases, it’s the average citizen that knows more than the journalist. In fact, very often when I see an article about something that I know a lot about, and I read the article, and it’s like they get a lot wrong. And the best interpretation is ‘there’s someone who doesn’t really understand what’s going on in the industry, has only a few facts to play with, has to come up with an article’.”
Effectively, Musk doesn’t see the work of journalists as being any more valid than anyone else who has an opinion – which, of course, is everyone – which overlooks the fact that journalists have trained to be able to disseminate essential facts, explore what’s most relevant, and communicate that to an audience.
That’s a skill, whether Musk agrees or not, and the perception that you can get closer to the truth by undermining this, in any way, is flawed logic.
But as with most of Musk’s decisions, it’s driven by personal experience – and mostly, by spite, and getting back at those whom he believes have wronged him, Journalists are high on that list, as he’s one of the most covered celebrities in the world, and absolutely, within that, there would be a lot of misreported facts about him and his businesses, as some news outlets push for clicks.
But most journalists are working to uncover the truth, and are not driven by some hidden agenda.
And also, if you are going to push the idea that all journalists are liars, maybe don’t get caught out spreading lies and misconceptions yourself every other week.
Here are just a few of Elon’s greatest hits on this front:
- Shared false conspiracy theory about the husband of former House speaker Nancy Pelosi
- Has repeatedly shared misinformation about COVID and the measures implemented to combat the virus
- Criticized a former Twitter employee as being lazy, and using his disability as an excuse for not working, before backtracking when he realized that Twitter owed the employee $100 million
- Claimed his private car was confronted by a crazed stalker, yet there’s no evidence that this actually happened
- Has repeatedly shared doctored headlines and reports, believing them to be real
- Called rescue team member a pedophile because he was upset that they didn’t want his help
Given his track record on this front, I’m not sure that Elon is in the best position to fight for truth. Free speech maybe, even if it’s wrong, but if you’re looking for a leader to implement rules that will lead to greater accuracy and trust in media, it seems like this is probably not the ideal choice.
But it is what it is – Twitter has now seemingly removed all the legacy blue ticks, which will lead to less trust, and more confusion, in the broader news and information sphere.
But it’ll teach those legacy media folk a lesson, right?