On Thursday, Elon Musk’s Twitter account initiated a purge of blue verification checkmarks from users who have not signed up for its subscription service, with the checks disappearing from the accounts of journalists, academics, and celebrities. The blue checks even disappeared from the accounts of some of the most well-known and widely followed people on the social network, including Kim Kardashian, Beyonce, Bill Gates, Pope Francis, former president Donald Trump, and Twitter founder Jack Dorsey.
Some government agencies also lost their blue checks, which weren’t immediately replaced by the gray checks Twitter has designated for government accounts. The initial rollout of the change appeared to be fairly glitchy, as blue checks disappeared and reappeared on some accounts. Some other high-profile legacy verified accounts also didn’t seem to lose their checks, at least at first. The change, and its confusing rollout, threatens to create an even greater risk of impersonation of high-profile users and confusion over the veracity of information on the platform.
Twitter had previously said it would “begin winding down” blue checks granted under its old verification system on April 1. In order to stay verified, users would have to pay $8 per month to join the platform’s Twitter Blue subscription service, which has allowed accounts to pay for verification since December.
Now, Twitter is looking to a new system of verification that takes into account user activity, age, profile completeness and other factors. It has also dropped the subscription fee for verified accounts. To receive or keep their blue checkmark on Twitter, users will now have to follow the platform’s rules and guidelines as well as provide proof of identity. Verified accounts are still limited in numbers; only 250 million people can be verified at any given time. However, this change allows more people to gain access to valuable features such as increased visibility when tweeting from protected accounts and extra content moderation tools.
Musk has previously presented changes to Twitter’s verification system as a way of “treating everyone equally.” “There shouldn’t be a different standard for celebrities,” he said in an earlier tweet. The paid feature could also drive revenue, which could help Musk, who is on the hook for significant debt after buying Twitter for $44 billion. However, experts in online inauthentic behavior have said the plan is unlikely to deter bad actors, who could just as easily pay to be verified.
“In fact, this is making Twitter a pay-for-play system, and we know that propagandists, people working to spread disinformation and other forms of manipulation via Twitter, are very much willing and able to finance their operations,” Samuel Woolley, assistant professor at the University of Texas’ School of Information and author of the book “Bots,” told CNN in November.