March 20, 2023

Twitter users will soon be able to get a blue check for $7.99 a month

Barbara Ortutay, Associated Press

Posted Saturday, November 5, 2022 at 3:34 PM EDT

Last updated Saturday, November 5, 2022 at 10:50 PM EDT

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Twitter has announced a $7.99-a-month subscription service that includes a blue check that will now only be issued to verified accounts as new owner Elon Musk works to overhaul the platform’s verification system just before the U.S. midterm elections.

In an update for Apple iOS devices available in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK, Twitter said users who “sign up now” for the new “Twitter Blue with verification” service can get a blue tick next to their name. just like the celebrities, companies and politicians you already follow.”

But Twitter employee Esther Crawford tweeted on Saturday that “the new Blue is not live yet – our release sprint continues, but some may see us making updates as we test and drive changes in real time.” Verified accounts didn’t seem to lose checks so far.

It was not immediately clear when the order would take effect. Crawford told The Associated Press in a Twitter post that it’s coming “soon, but it’s not out yet.” Twitter did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

Anyone able to get a blue check could lead to more confusion and disinformation ahead of Tuesday’s election, but Musk tweeted Saturday in response to a question about imposters impersonating verified profiles — like politicians and election officials — that “Twitter will freeze account trying to impersonate and keep the money!”

“So if the scammers want to do this a million times, it’s just a whole bunch of free money,” he said.

But many fear the sweeping layoffs that began Friday could topple the guardrails of content moderation and verification on the social platform used by public agencies, election boards, police departments and news outlets to reliably keep people informed.

The change ends Twitter’s current verification system, which was introduced in 2009 to prevent impersonations of high-profile accounts such as celebrities and politicians. Twitter now has about 423,000 verified accounts, many of them journalists from around the world, who were verified by the company regardless of how many followers they had.

Experts have expressed serious concerns about opening up the platform’s verification system. While it’s not perfect, it’s helped Twitter’s 238 million daily users decide if the accounts they’re getting information from are authentic. Current verified accounts include celebrities, athletes and influencers, government agencies and politicians around the world, journalists and news agencies, activists, companies and brands, and Musk himself.

“He knows there’s value in the blue check, and he’s trying to take advantage of it quickly,” said Jennifer Grygiel, a social media expert and assistant professor of communication at Syracuse University. “He has to earn people’s trust before he can sell them anything. Why would you buy a car from a salesman who you know has basically turned out to be a mess?

An update to the iOS version of Twitter’s app doesn’t mention verification as part of the new blue verification system. The update is currently not available for Android devices.

Musk, who had previously said he wanted to “verify all people” on Twitter, has floated ways to identify public figures other than a blue check. Currently, for example, government officials are identified by a text below their names that indicates that they are sending messages from an official government account.

President Joe Biden’s ↕POTUS account, for example, says in gray letters that it belongs to a “United States Government Official.”

Seven-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton, who has 7.8 million Twitter followers, told the AP: “I could actually just delete my Twitter account, I never use it. I think it’s really healthy to get social media off my phone for a while.”

“But it’s also a really powerful tool for connecting with people, so I appreciate that and I try to use it as that and not as something that takes me away from the journey I’m on in life,” she said.

The announcement comes a day after Twitter began laying off workers to cut costs, and as more companies suspend advertising on the platform as the wary corporate world waits to see how the platform fares under its new owner.

About half of the company’s 7,500 employees were laid off, Twitter’s security and integrity manager Yoel Roth tweeted.

He said the company’s front-line content monitoring staff was the group least affected by the job cuts and that “efforts to ensure election integrity — including harmful misinformation that can suppress polls and counter state-sponsored information activities — remain a priority.”

Twitter founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey took the blame for the job losses.

“I take responsibility for why everyone is in this situation: I grew the size of the company too fast,” he tweeted on Saturday. “I apologize for that.”

Musk tweeted late Friday that there was no choice but to cut jobs “while the company is losing over $4 million a day.” He did not give details of the daily losses on Twitter, saying that the workers who lost their jobs were offered three months’ salary as severance pay.

He also said that Twitter has already seen a “massive drop in revenue” as advertisers face pressure from activists to exit the platform, which relies heavily on advertising to make money.

United Airlines on Saturday became the latest major brand to suspend advertising on Twitter, joining other companies including General Motors, REI, General Mills and Audi.

Musk tried to reassure advertisers last week by saying Twitter would not become a “free-for-all hellscape” because of what he calls a commitment to free speech.

But there are still concerns about whether a lighter touch on Twitter’s content moderation will lead to users posting more offensive tweets. This can damage companies’ brands if their ads appear next to them.

On Saturday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk called on Musk to “ensure that human rights are central to the governance of Twitter.” In an open letter, Turk said reports that the company’s entire human rights team and a large part of its ethical AI team were fired were not an “encouraging start.”

“Like all companies, Twitter needs to understand the downsides to its platform and take steps to fix them,” Turk said. “Respect for shared human rights should set safeguards for the use and development of the platform.”

Meanwhile, Twitter can’t simply cut costs to boost profits, and Musk needs to find ways to generate more revenue, said Dan Ives, an analyst at Wedbush. But that may be easier said than done with the new blue check subscription program.

“Users have been getting this for free,” Ives said. “There could be massive setbacks.”

He expects 20 to 25 percent of Twitter’s verified users to sign up initially. He added that the stakes are high for Musk and Twitter to get this right in time and for sign-ups to work smoothly.

“You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression,” Ives said. “For Musk, the first week as owner of the Twitter platform has been a train wreck. Now you’ve cut 50% (of the workforce). The stability of the platform itself is questionable, and advertisers are watching this closely.”

AP Business Writer Stan Choe in New York and Associated Press Wrier Jenna Fryer in Charlotte, NC contributed to this story.

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