Elon Musk's plan to remove "Verified" blue checkmarks from all the celebrities who've had them for a decade unless they coughed up $8 likely wasn't that well thought-out.
And so, because many power-users of Twitter have balked at having to pay for this once-free service, and because these power-users, some of them Hollywood and sports celebrities, are followed by millions of people and help make Twitter the occasionally fun read that it is, it looks like Musk's solution is to cherrypick the ones he likes and "personally" pay for their Twitter Blue subscriptions.
Pundits have been wondering about how Musk would solve this pesky problem ever since he announced last fall that Twitter was going to start charging for those blue checkmarks. The plan seemed to assume that people like Stephen King and LeBron James would feel peer-pressured, or something, to retain their "verified" status. But pretty immediately, King replied in an October 31 tweet, "$20 a month to keep my blue check? Fuck that, they should pay me. If that gets instituted, I’m gone like Enron."
King added, after someone pointed out his enormous wealth, "It ain't the money, it's the principle of the thing."
He was referring to the initial proposal floated about a $20 pricetag, and in typical fashion, Musk just replied a few hours later, "We need to pay the bills somehow! Twitter cannot rely entirely on advertisers. How about $8?"
We need to pay the bills somehow! Twitter cannot rely entirely on advertisers. How about $8?— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 1, 2022
Then there was William Shatner, who tweeted last month about the coming checkmark purge, "I’ve been here for 15 years giving my [time] & witty thoughts all for bupkis. Now you’re telling me that I have to pay for something you gave me for free? What is this — the Colombia [sic] Records & Tape Club?"
Musk admitted in a tweet Thursday that he is "paying for a few [celebrity accounts] personally," by which we assume he means that the company is just sucking it up and leaving some segment of legacy "Verified" statuses in place. We have no sense of the scale of this, but we can see that Shatner (2.5M followers), King (7.1M followers), and James (52.7M followers) all have their blue checkmarks, and The Verge confirmed, or they have themselves, that they are not paying for them . When King tweeted about it Thursday, Musk replied, "You're welcome namaste."
Twitter is making various other exceptions as well. As TechCrunch reports today, after the reams of negative publicity Musk attracted for labeling NPR as "state affiliated" and then "government-funded media," he's now had those labels removed — but NPR's account has no Verified checkmark anymore.
Taylor Swift (92.5M followers) still has her blue checkmark, and it's entirely unclear if her team is paying for that — but it would probably behoove many celebrities who don't want to be impersonated to maintain the status, even if anyone could still launch and pay for a fake account and impersonate them with their own blue checkmark. (Musk has paid lip service to the fact that this won't be allowed, but does he really have the staff to moderate an onslaught of impersonators?)
And perhaps the strategy is to be purposefully vague about who paid and who hasn't.
Beyoncé, Kim Kardashian, and Oprah all lost their checkmarks, but maybe Musk just likes Taylor Swift better than them?
TechCrunch notes how this is all "embarassing for Twitter," and "Musk’s potential missteps here are obvious." And now, basically, the checkmark just becomes "the mark of crypto scams and Musk acolytes rather than journalists and top celebrities." I guess that's the radical, unfettered free-speech world that Musk wants to revert to, but there was some wisdom to instituting the checkmark system in the first place, because bad actors and con artists abound on the internet!
Exhibit A, from Thursday:
Twitter is also, as TechCrunch reports, requiring small advertisers to pay for blue checkmarks if they want to advertise (larger advertisers spending $1000 or more automatically get gold checkmarks).
"This change aligns with Twitter’s broader verification strategy: to elevate the quality of content on Twitter and enhance your experience as a user and advertiser," a note to advertisers says, spuriously. "This approach also supports our ongoing efforts to reduce fraudulent accounts and bots."
Good luck with that.