Twitter owner Elon Musk removed legacy verification status from celebrities and mainstream news outlets on Thursday, a move which induced confusion and, in some cases, melodramatic reactions as the entrepreneur continues to change the revenue structure of the social media company.
Musk implemented the change on April 20, causing accounts that had maintained blue checkmarks in their profiles under previous Twitter ownership to lose their verification status. Individual users who desire verification will now have to pay an $8 per month subscription for Twitter Blue, while organizations will have to pay $1,000 per month.
Twitter users with blue checkmarks before the Musk takeover were typically journalists, government officials, celebrities, and other individuals with a significant public profile. The verification model has shifted such that users with blue checkmarks are those who purchase the ability to edit posts, add bold and italic text, see fewer advertisements in their feeds, and write posts as long as 10,000 characters rather than the customary limit of 280 characters.
Some users noted that the loss of verification for pages representing agencies or elected representatives could present dangers as officials seek to publish emergency alerts. The page belonging to the government of New York City, for instance, was impersonated on Thursday by another user, neither of which had verification. Many officials and agencies, including the government of New York City, had a gray checkmark restored to their profiles as of Friday.
Twitter meanwhile removed “state-affiliated media” labels from the accounts for Xinhua News, a Chinese state-run news outlet, and RT, a Russian state-controlled news outlet. Twitter likewise nixed the “government-funded media” labels previously affixed to the NPR and CBC accounts since the outlets accept funds from the American and Canadian governments, respectively. NPR ceased using Twitter last week over the policy.
Among the less measured reactions to the move came from several celebrities who complained about the loss of their blue checkmarks and insisted that they would never pay for the distinction. Twitter users mockingly started a GoFundMe campaign on behalf of actress Bette Midler so that she could regain her verification after bemoaning the change. Alyssa Milano likewise wondered aloud whether Musk could be “liable for defamation or identity theft or fraud” if another user impersonates her account.
Musk also said that he would personally bankroll verification for basketball star LeBron James, actor William Shatner, and author Stephen King, all of whom had been particularly vocal in their refusal to pay the subscription fee. King vowed to his followers on Thursday evening that he had not paid for Twitter Blue; Musk responded “you’re welcome namaste.”
Musk, who also serves as chief executive of Tesla and SpaceX, said he bought Twitter at the end of last year for $44 billion in order to reserve a corner of the public square for open dialogue. The new revenue structure comes after Musk noted that a number of advertisers have ended their relationships with the company, dealing a significant blow to the business.
“Twitter has had a massive drop in revenue, due to activist groups pressuring advertisers, even though nothing has changed with content moderation and we did everything we could to appease the activists,” Musk remarked on the platform. “Extremely messed up! They’re trying to destroy free speech in America.”
Musk started his tenure by dismissing 6,500 of the 8,000 employees who remained at the social media platform. The move gained accolades from some business leaders, who noted that the restored emphasis on hiring essential engineering and technology staff appears to have saved the firm largely without impacting the platform’s functionality.