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Opinion – Musk should not be charging for Twitter’s blue tick status

New Twitter boss Elon Musk is planning to charge $240-per-year for blue tick status. Could shifting away from simple verification and toward an open premium service lead to fundamental flaws in the platform? We reckon so.

Elon Musk’s hard-fought campaign to get his hands on Twitter was always superseded by a desire to make the platform more democratic, but his early moves point to a lack of critical thought.

The world’s richest man strolled into Twitter HQ last week in typically jovial fashion. Holding a kitchen basin, he posted a video with the annotation: ‘Let that sink in.’ He later Tweeted that the ‘bird is freed,’ inferring that big changes are on the way.

For starters, the Tesla chief rapidly laid off several top executives and followed up with an announcement that blue tick verification is to be completely overhauled.

He described the current system for allocating accounts with this status as ‘bullshit,’ but the majority of Twitter users are no happier with his suggestion to improve it.

How blue tick verification could change

If you haven’t seen the man’s slew of sarcastic Tweets this week, Musk is proposing to charge for blue trick verification, stating that accounts with those little blue check-marks will have them taken away if they fail to pay around $8 USD a month.

Musk has suggested that the premium subscription service will be open to literally anyone who wants to pay $240 USD per year. ‘We need to pay the bills somehow,’ he says.

‘Twitter’s current lords & peasants system for who has or doesn’t have a blue check-mark is bullshit. Power to the people! Blue for $8/month,’ he Tweeted on Monday.

After pausing and thinking for a moment, the general reaction was one that any sane person would expect – a poll posted by Musk associate Jason Calacanis had an 80% response for the option ‘wouldn’t pay.’ Practically speaking, the idea is filled with holes that Musk seems unwilling to see.

Instead, he has adopted a belligerent stance where genuine concerns are shut down with juvenile memes. It’s a worrying start to Twitter under this new ownership and people are rightly questioning Musk’s credentials.

The obvious (or so we thought) flaws

Musk’s statement about ‘lords & peasants’ indicates that he views blue ticks on Twitter predominantly as status symbol, which just isn’t the case for many of us.

Again, he believes what he’s doing is democratic, in that it gives anyone the chance to experience the benefits of a blue tick. In all likelihood, however, any positives in that sense will be outweighed tenfold by logistical oversights.

Let’s think about why the ticks became a thing in the first place. Introduced in 2009, the system was born out of necessity as several influential figures were being impersonated and defamed online.

In the years since, the blue tick has become a way for users to quickly ratify that the information or opinions we’re being presented with are genuine.

We’re free to agree or disagree with the sentiments being put out there, but we know for sure they’re coming from an actual news source, professional athlete, comedian, billionaire tech tycoon, etc.

Twitter’s own phrasing around blue ticks from 2013 states: ‘Verification is currently used to establish authenticity of identities on Twitter. The verified badge helps users discover high-quality sources of information and trust that a legitimate source is authoring the account’s Tweets.’

Knowing better than most how ridiculous the internet can be, it seems impossible to think that the constantly-memed Musk can’t see the potential red flags on this. Maybe he’s actively choosing to ignore them, which is worse.

The death of Twitter news?

While some merely view Twitter as a dumping ground for memes, akin to Reddit, people are becoming increasingly reliant on the app for their daily news bites

Pew Research Center found in a study that as many as 53% of US Twitter users are actively searching for news updates. By comparison, only 44% of Facebook users, 37% of Reddit users, and 30% of users go to those sites for this reason.

This is why advertisers spend so much on Twitter. If fans of an upcoming game are Tweeting about it in droves, for instance, you can bet that its publisher is vying to maximise ad space.

Brands depend on Twitter to insert these ads into relevant conversations away from misinformation and hate speech, and blue ticks helps to sift through the constant onslaught of user generated data.

It just seems odd and counter-intuitive to tear up a format that already works purely to create a new revenue stream, which, by his own admission, is what Musk is doing.

Knowing that Twitter is the most visited social media site for news, there should be concerted efforts to clamp down further on unreliable or dodgy information, not to open the floodgates entirely to trolls or folk pushing deceptive agendas – so long as they’ve got $8 USD spare.

More to the point, having to pay for the privilege of being more easily recognised won’t go down well with burgeoning content creators and journalists already helping the current flow of information.

If Musk isn’t careful, his first action as boss could make Twitter the polar opposite of the open forum, town-square utopia he has pushed over the last year.

Update (09/11): Musk added an extra grey verified tag for those who already have blue ticks, and then reversed the decision hours later. Suffice to say, the system is pretty confused.

 

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