Critics of Elon Musk’s Twitter takeover says any plan to charge users for identity verification could make information on the site less reliable and more vulnerable to manipulation – devaluing the company.
The idea of a monthly fee for the blue verification badge after users’ names was reported Sunday by Casey Newton’s tech-focused newsletter Platformer. Currently, notable users can receive the verification for free provided they meet a number of qualifications.
Musk has not confirmed that a load will be added, but on Sunday tweeted“The entire verification process is being renewed right now,” on his own verified account.
He gave the idea more oxygen the same day by responding to a poll from tech investor and friend Jason Calacanis, who asked how much users would be willing to pay for verification. More than 80% of respondents said they would not pay.
And early Tuesday, Musk responded to a post by author Stephen King, who threatened to terminate service if he was charged a reported $20 monthly fee for the blue check. “If enacted, I’m gone like Enron,” King wrote.
“We have to pay the bills somehow! Twitter can’t completely rely on advertisers,” Musk black. “How about $8?”
Calacanis, who at one point helped Musk raise money for the purchase and jokes in his Twitter bio that he is the company’s head of meme, has argued extension of verification will improve the site.
“Having many more people verified on Twitter, while weeding out the bot armies, is the fastest way to make the platform safer and more usable for everyone,” he tweeted Monday.
“These aren’t the *only* ways to make Twitter safer and more usable, but they will have a quick and dramatic impact,” he added.
Jeff Jarvis, a prolific Twitter user who teaches at CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism and studies how information moves in the digital age, worries that such a plan could backfire. He was part of a chorus of voices saying the idea was bad — for both users and the company.
“Every prankster, marketer and sly propagandist will buy a blue tick and therefore completely devalue the blue tick. And Musk will no longer have anything to sell,” Jarvis told NBC News, referring to the potential for the check to become a pay-to-play option.
About a quarter of American adults use Twitter, according to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, and its influence may be even greater: Conversation about the service provides the backdrop for the political and cultural debates that dominate the news cycle every day. Much of the value comes from the news value – the statements made by companies, celebrities, elected officials and the journalists who cover them. And that value is largely dependent on the verification system the company has built.
James Ball, global editor of The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, also argued against the paid verification plan. In a piece Monday for Britain’s New Statesman, he recalled being impersonated by a fake Twitter account before being verified.
“Without a free way for notable accounts to verify they were real, it would be easier for fake accounts posing as banks, government agencies or notable people to trick innocent users and spread fake news,” he wrote, adding that the absence of limited and free verification would make Twitter “a hacker’s paradise”.
Others said they would welcome the change.
“I think this is a good idea and I will pay,” tweeted Scott Gallowaya professor of marketing at New York University and an active user of the site.
“I would do it if ALL the money goes to charity,” musician John Michie tweeted.
Some said they would consider paying to use Twitter, but that it didn’t make sense to do so specifically for verification.
Marcus Hutchins, a British security researcher prominent on the platform and so on the platform, he would “happily pay for Twitter”, but added: “If it’s about highlighting notable accounts, then letting people buy it undermines the point.”
There are reportedly at least 400,000 verified users on the platform. The company, which did not respond to a request for comment Monday, launched a $4.99 a month subscription service for certain benefits, but not confirmation, in June 2021.
The potential verification plan was the latest news about Musk’s takeover of Twitter to garner a flurry of attention.
The spread of misinformation in the social media era continues to reshape cultural and political dialogue, with many observers warning of consequences if left unchecked.
Musk has fanned the flames himself, most recently by tweeting and then deleting a link over the weekend to a well-known conspiracy website that published a baseless claim about the attack last week on Paul Pelosi, the husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Questions remain about how a subscription verification plan will affect officials and government agencies, including election offices, who use the service to quickly distribute important information to the public.
Rep. Brad Sherman, a Democrat who represents a district north of Los Angeles, said he did not think he would pay a fee to maintain his confirmation status and felt such a deal could amount to extortion for people in the public eye.
“He’s really saying I better get a blue check or I’m going to look like a fraud,” he said. “This is not an attempt to recover costs. This is an attempt to turn fraud prevention into a profit center. Just because he overpaid for Twitter doesn’t mean I have to overpay for confirmation.”
Some noted that Twitter’s verification system also serves as a self-protective measure for the company. Tony La Russa, then the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, sued the service in 2009, for example, after a user created a fake account with his name. The following month, Twitter launched a beta version of the verified account feature.
“The checks improve the credibility and veracity of expertise in the Twitter ecosystem,” Jarvis said. “If Twitter is a lousy experience, people aren’t going to use it, and advertisers aren’t going to be there.”
Musk recently sought to reassure advertisers that Twitter would remain a destination that would appeal to them.
It’s not clear how much charging verified users will earn the company’s bottom line.
Sarah T. Roberts, a professor of information studies at UCLA who is a former Twitter employee, said she did not think it would significantly help the company’s finances.
“It’s a very strange place to make money,” she said. “It’s kind of blind to the value that certain high-profile users bring to Twitter. And that enriches the experience, and you’re going to ask them to pay for the privilege?”
While at Twitter, Roberts was part of a team that helped the company moderate health information. She quit earlier in 2022, after less than a year. She said she came to appreciate the research and work that had gone into the company’s systems and said it was foolish to change things without studying them or to do so under the influence of outsiders who had little insight into the company.
“Twitter has had many, many people working on issues like user interface design and innovation, testing it with user groups, and people who specialize in working with VIT — very important Twitter users,” she said.
“That’s not to say that new management shouldn’t rethink any of them, but asking random people on Twitter, who are your sycophantic fanbase, about these complicated design and revenue plans is a pretty strange way to go about it.”
Roberts said she has heard from many former colleagues still at Twitter who are concerned about the prospect of the company’s mission changing so quickly and potentially haphazardly.
“It is by all accounts a nightmare,” she said. “Everybody’s trying to get through.”