How did a bunch of Twitter accounts regain their verification badges despite not subscribing to Twitter Blue? And is that even legal?
A quick recap of how Twitter works in the Year 2023: This website is free. Unless you choose to pay for it. And if you have a million followers, you can still get the paid benefits. Unless you complain enough about getting those benefits. But if you’re no longer alive, you can still get it.
Sorry, did that confuse you?
Such is life at Twitter dot com, now under the control of noted outer space enthusiast Elon Musk. If you chose to live your life offline over the weekend — maybe you chose to take a walk outside, smell the flowers, sneeze as the pollen overwhelmed your sinuses, etc. — you may have missed exactly what happened. And if you didn’t miss it, the past 72 hours may have been so much of a whirlwind that you still need a quick refresher.
So here we go.
The Twitter Blues
The trouble really started when Musk and Twitter decided to retire the legacy verification checkmark, initially put in place to verify the identities of notable people or organizations. The plan was to replace the verification model with a paid plan to drive more revenue to the company. Under this plan, one could pay $8 per month for Twitter Blue and earn a checkmark in addition to other benefits. Or, you could pay $1,000 monthly for Twitter Gold — presumably for a gold checkmark and the honor of directing the next SpaceX rocket launch.
The thing is, these options were open to anyone. Anyone.
That plan became reality on Thursday, April 20, when everyone from celebrities to irony-poisoned 30-something sports writers lost their checks en masse, opening the doors to the trolls. One such example came from a parody account for Disney Junior UK (a network that shuttered three years ago), which was awarded a gold checkmark.
The account went on to tweet various profanities and racial slurs at Musk before it was suspended.
But all was not lost for the former verified accounts. Over the weekend, Twitter began restoring some of those legacy checkmarks to accounts with over 1 million followers — whether they wanted it or not. Hover over that checkmark, and a message pops up that reads “This account is verified because they are subscribed to Twitter Blue and verified their phone number.”
And to be clear, that’s regardless of whether those accounts are actually subscribed. Leave it to author and overall Good Twitter User Stephen King to clarify:
Some now-verified accounts couldn’t possibly have paid for Twitter Blue, either. Kobe Bryant’s Twitter account, which has been inactive since his passing in 2020, was mysteriously fitted with the blue check as well. Same with Anthony Bourdain, who passed in 2018. And yes, that same message that says they subscribed to Twitter Blue and verified their phone numbers, appears on their accounts.
King took it better than some others, though. Dril, a shit-posting account with 1.8 million followers, went nuclear on Musk when his checkmark returned, citing Musk’s relationship with Jeffrey Epstein and his proposed Hyperloop transit system in a profanity-laced Twitter bender that captivated the attention of the terminally online.
In one of his more insightful tweets, Dril said “its ok he fired the people in charge of telling him its illegal,” referring to restoring verified status to those who did not ask for it.
He might not be wrong about that part.
Twitter’s Badge Brigade: The Legal Implications
Musk restoring the legacy checkmark for accounts with over a million followers isn’t just misleading to the casual user, it may actually be illegal.
Tim Karr, senior director of strategy and communications for Free Press, explained it in a thread of his own.
The argument would be that by making it appear that someone like Stephen King (or anyone else with a million followers) is subscribed to Twitter Blue, Musk is also making it appear that King endorses the product. This is made more blatant by the blurb on his profile falsely claiming that King is paying money for the service and that he took steps to verify the account.
Harvard Law’s Alejandra Caraballo seemed to back this up.
Unfortunately for Musk, such deception appears to have been the only way to get more Twitter Blue subscribers. Rumors flew over the weekend saying that the number of people who actually decided to pay for the service after The Purge last week was … 28.
For context, yours truly has lived five more years (so far) than the number of new Twitter Blue subscribers. Crunch the numbers and you’ll see that those 28 new users will net Twitter $2,688 per year, which wouldn’t even cover the get-in price at Super Bowl LVII.
Twitter Dot Com, I Live For This
So what happens next? I’m not sure. Maybe there’s an explainer in the back end of Twitter Blue, but I will not pay $8 to find out and I’m about 994,000 followers short of having the service foisted upon me. What we do know is that the verified-against-their-will accounts want to make it exceptionally clear that Elon Musk is not seeing a penny of their hard-earned money.
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