In Fall 2022, Elon Musk purchased the social media giant Twitter for $44 billion. This sale has caused him millions in debt and pushed Twitter into bankruptcy. To increase cash flow, he has since made some changes to the network. The most controversial of changes made is the ability to buy verification or a “blue check” subscription. Being verified was once only a possibility for famous well-known account holders. Since this new feature, verification has become something that anyone can buy and reap the benefits. This has come with much chaos, like the impersonation of celebrities, companies and brands. November has been undeniably transformative at Twitter. Here is what’s been going down.
Musk has made several changes to the company since acquiring it. He has changed the names of features such as “Birdwatch” to “Community Notes”. Twitter’s co-founder Jack Dorcey said that the previous name “Birdwatch” was “a far better name”.
Next, Musk followed in the footsteps of Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg and began the downsizing. He fired 90% of staff from Twitter’s India headquarters, bringing their employee to ~12 people. Bloomberg reports that 70% of these cuts changed their product and engineering team. Gizmodo reports the number of employees on Twitter’s content moderator team (now known as the Safety and Trust team) fell from hundreds to only 15. Regarding the firings, some legal experts say that Musk has violated the Federal Trade Commission’s consent decree. Many of these former Twitter employees were luckily hired by companies like Meta and Google.
The change gaining the most attention is the verified blue checkmark subscription feature. All users are able to buy an $8/month subscription granting them the iconic blue checkmark. The subscription has coined the name Twitter Blue. Anyone can obtain this subscription, but their verification comes with a disclaimer message. It states, “This account is verified because it’s subscribed to Twitter Blue”. Comparatively, accounts verified due to notoriety also have a message. Their message states, “This account is verified because it’s notable in government, news, entertainments or another designated category”.
Many users’ justification for purchasing the subscription is out of concern their content will hide amongst the algorithm and stranded in a sea of this new influx of verified users. For content creators whose main source of income is networking through Twitter, this adds a whole new layer of limited exposure and invisibility to overcome.
Of course, the Internet did its thing, and the memes began.
An influx of fake accounts impersonating companies and celebrities, especially government officials began surfacing.
To prove how easy it was to impersonate someone with Twitter Blue, Washington Post columnist Geoffrey A. Fowler impersonated (with permission) Senator Edward Markey and comedian Blair Erskine.
Some of the worst cases of chaos seen have involved the impersonation of businesses.
One account impersonated Nintendo of America and tweeted their video game character Mario making an inappropriate hand gesture.
The pharmaceutical company giant Eli Lilly was also impersonated. the account with a blue check tweeted that, “We are excited to announce Insulin is free now”. Insulin is a very expensive necessity for those living with diabetes. So of course, the post received over a thousand retweets. Eli Lily’s stock price had plummeted before the official Eli Lilly account could chime in and kill the excitement.
Amongst basketball fans panic ensued following a tweet from a fake Lebron James account.
The tweet read “I am officially requesting a trade Thank you #LakersNation for all the support through the years. 💯 Onto bigger and better things! 👑 #ThekidfromAKRON #ImComingHome”.
Even Musk himself was not immune to impersonation and mockery. Comedians like Kathy Griffin parodied Musk by changing their profile picture and name to mirror his. This resulted in Ms. Griffin’s account suspension. One of the fake accounts that impersonated Musk took a personal swing. They referenced his relationship with ex and mother of his child the musician Grimes. The account tweeted “Starting today we’ll begin offering Twitter Gold: a free subscription that gets you yearly family vacations and nightly dinners with me. If your name is Grimes. Please come back. I love you.”.
Twitter was also impersonated. The account was able to scam users by claiming to grant free verification. The account was given access to user’s crypto wallets through the link “twitter-blue.com”. The tweet stated, “Woah, Twitter Blue is now available for free by authenticating their wallet assets. Authenticate now: twitter-blue.com Ps, there might be a little surprise after authenticating… bird NFT? 👀”.
Musk responded to the issues at a Twitter space. He nonchalantly admitted that this new Twitter Blue feature may be “a dumb decision, but we’ll see”. As well, with humility stating: “Please note that Twitter will do lots of things in coming months. We will keep what works & change what doesn’t”. The statement is equal parts concerning and reassuring.
On what users can do about impersonation and scamming, he tweeted “Report as soon as you see it. Troll/bot networks on Twitter are a *dire* problem for adversely affecting public discourse & ripping people off. Just dropping their prominence as a function of probable gaming of the system would be a big improvement.”.
On November 6th, Musk published a Tweet about parody accounts. He wrote, “Going forward, any Twitter handles engaging in impersonation without clearly specifying “parody” will be permanently suspended” and “Previously, we issued a warning before suspension, but now that we are rolling out widespread verification, there will be no warning. This will clearly be identified as a condition for signing up to Twitter blue”.
Another verified user Michael Nordine (@slowbeard) replied to his Tweet with a humorous synopsis of Musk’s changes saying, “phase 1: overpay for the bird app phase 2: make everything about it worse phase 3: ??? phase 4: profit!”
Twitter also revealed their verification requirements.
On their page, they note the “definition of verification and the accompanying blue checkmark is changing”. In response to the misuses of verification they stated, “Please note, minimize impersonation risks, display name changes will be restricted on Verified accounts” and that, “Twitter Blue subscribers’ blue checkmarks may be taken away at any time for any reason at all by Twitter, including as the result of certain types of violations of the Twitter Rules, including but not limited to our rules around spam, ban evasion, and impersonation”.
Also, Twitter noted in the new verification requirements there are new profile labels such as the Official profile label that applies to “government accounts (institutional accounts, elected or appointed officials, and multilateral organizations)*[*State-affiliated media and government accounts that play a role as a geopolitical or official Government communication channel display a unique label], certain political organizations such as political parties, commercial companies including business partners, major brands, media outlets and publishers, and some other public figures”.
However, as Geoffrey A. Fowler discovered in his article, there was a bug on the mobile app. The bug mistakenly displayed a message claiming his fake account was verified for being notable a person. Part of the issue that allowed Fowler to conduct his fake accounts is Twitter’s lack of identification verification. Fowler said that he “used an old iPhone with its own test Apple ID and [his] regular credit card to fund the purchase. At no point did it ask [him] to show some real ID, or even question why [he] was using a name that was identical to a legacy verified account (Erskine has more than 430,000 followers), or a high-level government official”.
Additionally, official verified accounts had issues changing their name. This was confirmed to be a system bug. For example, the musician Doja Cat was unable to change her name from “Christmas”. She tweeted Musk directly and he promptly fixed the bug. Then, Doja Cat changed her name to “fart”. Shortly after, she joined others by changing her name to “Elon Musk” with an unflattering pre-billionaire profile photo of him.
After all the blue check mark scandals, Musk announced Twitter will be introducing new colours to code verified accounts. Blue checkmarks will be for individual. Gold checkmarks will be used by brands and companies. Grey checkmarks will be for government accounts. These new checkmarks are set to launch next week, on December 2nd.
The reality is, faulty or not, Twitter isn’t going away anytime soon. It will continue to be a social media giant. Nowadays, Twitter is also the first place that news (or fake news) will surface. Thus, being Twitter-adjacent can help keep you “in the loop”. If you’re a business that has yet to join the Twitter community, you should. Especially if your customer or client base occupies the Internet. We hope this article didn’t scare you off Twitter’s new feature. Concerning the Twitter Blue bandwagon, it seems that Twitter has got it under control and it’s safe to hop on. The best way to get your business recognition (to be proud of) is to be active on your profile and to (respectfully) interact with other users on Twitter.