Twitter’s blue check | Borneo Online Newsletter
AP — The story of Twitter’s blue checkmarks — a simple verification system that’s now seen as an elite status symbol — began with high-profile impersonations, just as the site was beginning to take off in 2008 and 2009.
Among the celebrities who had their likenesses impersonated were Kanye West, now Ye, basketball star Shaquille O’Neil and actor Ewan McGregor, who also impersonated a hugely popular website called…MySpace.
Then, in June 2009, St Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa sued Twitter, claiming that a fake account, using his name to shed light on drunk driving and two dead Cardinals pitchers , had damaged his reputation and caused emotional distress.
LaRussa eventually dropped his lawsuit. But in June of that year, Biz Stone, then CEO of Twitter, introduced a verification system to sort out genuine accounts from imposters. The advantage would be for account holders, but also for everyone on Twitter. They could be sure, if they saw the blue checkmark next to a name, that what they were reading was genuine.
Fast forward to 2022. Twitter’s new owner and leader, billionaire Elon Musk, wants to turn this verification system into a revenue stream for the company he paid $44 billion to buy. It’s a 180-degree turn from the stance he took earlier this year, before his takeover closed, when he said he wanted to “verify all humans” on Twitter.
After he floated the idea of charging users $20 per month for the “blue check” and a few extra features, he seemed to quickly scale it down in a Twitter exchange with author Stephen King, who posted “If that’s instituted, I left like Enron.
“We have to pay the bills one way or another! Twitter cannot rely entirely on advertisers. How about $8? Musk replied.
Whatever the price, the idea of a paid verification system raises complex questions and concerns — beyond the usual cheers and jeers that have accompanied Musk’s every move since he took over the company from social media last week.
“Taking advantage of Twitter users to make more money may be the right strategy, but verification is not the right feature to charge for,” said Insider Intelligence analyst Jasmine Enberg.
“Verification is intended to ensure the integrity of accounts and conversations on the platform, rather than a premium feature intended to improve the experience. Some social users are increasingly willing to pay for features that add value to their experiences.
Instead of charging for authentication, however, Enberg said Musk should consider adding features to Twitter that would entice people to use it more and help them grow their follower base and find a way to earn. money with these.
“Turning users into customers is not an easy sell, and the exchange of value has to be fair for it to pay off,” she said.
Twitter already has a subscription plan, Twitter Blue, which for $5 per month gives users access to additional features, such as the ability to un-tweet and read articles without ads. Musk’s plan, as evident from his tweets, appears to expand it to charge more money for more features – including the verification badge – and release it to more users.
“Of approximately 300,000 verified accounts on Twitter, we estimate that only about 25% would go this route and pay the $8 a month,” said Wedbush analyst Daniel Ives.
That would mean just $7.2 million a year in additional revenue for Twitter, which isn’t enough to move the dial for a company whose last reported quarterly revenue was $1.18 billion.
Ives expects Musk to first go after users who already have the check to charge them to keep it, then likely introduce other tiered pricing plans for other accounts.
“The problem is that many athletes and celebrities are willing to lose their coveted blue check and refuse to pay the monthly fee, it would be an ominous time for Musk in his first strategic move with Twitter,” he said.
While Musk’s exact plans are unclear, experts worry about the consequences of a paid verification system that leaves anyone unwilling to pay vulnerable to identity theft – and anyone who pays the opportunity to see its presence on Twitter reinforced by the platform’s algorithms.
While many verified users on Twitter are famous, there are also community activists, journalists from small newspapers and outlets inside and outside the United States (US) – and everyday people who simply find themselves in the news. For this subset, $8 a month might not be worth it, no matter how many memes Musk posts about the cost of a cup of coffee.
The idea behind verification – which other social networks later copied – was to ensure that public figures, politicians and businesses were who they claimed to be. It started small at first, as is the case when tech companies test new features and functions. “The experiment will begin with government officials, public agencies, famous artists, athletes and other well-known people at risk of identity theft,” Stone wrote in 2009. He suggested that those who cannot not be immediately verified put their official website in their Twitter bio to show they are who they say they are.
Commercial accounts – such as brand pages for Coca-Cola or McDonald’s – were not included in the initial verification system, nor were basic journalists. These were added later as misinformation from fake sites and accounts became a bigger issue on social media.
While the “blue tick” (which is actually a white tick in a blue frame or a black tick in a white frame if you’re using Twitter in dark mode) is now seen in some circles as an elite status symbol for the rich and famous, his goal has always been to ensure that the people and accounts who tweet are who they say they are. As such, it has benefited Twitter as much – if not more – than it has benefited accounts that have been verified, by cracking down on impersonations.
A journalism ethics expert for the Poynter Institute think tank, Kelly McBride, said she suspected the blue check would become less valuable if people knew it could be bought. Currently, it means a person with a particular position or public stature whose identity has been verified.
“Twitter might end up being a similar story,” she said. “It may become less valuable to journalists. And that wouldn’t be a bad thing.