Social media platforms typically beta-test new features with a narrow set of users before launching them widely. Not Twitter and its new boss Elon Musk, who live tweets the world through most of the changes. Proceed to chaos.
The first big new Twitter feature – a revamped, now paid Twitter Blue subscription service for $7.99 each month – is here. It was launched on Wednesday, but only on Apple’s iOS and only in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.
The well-known signature blue check mark next to your account name was previously free to “authentic, notable, and active” profiles, verified by Twitter’s people.
However, not only is the feature now paid – it’s also not being verified as before. In other words, Twitter does not review accounts belonging to the Blue subscription service.
Impersonations and scams
At the same time, the paid and verified check marks look identical on both the web and the mobile versions of Twitter. You have to actively click through an account and tap on the very check mark to get more information.
A paid account will say, “This account is verified because it’s subscribed to Twitter Blue.” An account that was previously verified by Twitter will say, “This account is verified because it’s notable in government, news, entertainment, or another designated category.”
All that means that, in theory, the paid Blue subscribers can afford to be whoever they want to be on Twitter if they change their profile names to the names of sports superstars, politicians, and other famous people. No one will check if you paid, and scrollers-by might not even suspect a thing.
Yes, Twitter says it will enforce rules for Blue accounts, including ones that forbid impersonation. But it’s difficult to monitor thousands of profiles simultaneously, now with Twitter’s workforce shrunk in half.
Unsurprisingly, attempts at impersonation and scams are spreading like an epidemic – the new but seemingly ever-changing order at Twitter looks like a huge boon for trolls and the fake news industry.
Some posts were mere trolling. For instance, there was an account pretending to be Nintendo that posted a picture of Mario flipping the bird, and the owner of a parody profile of Jesus Christ made sure it was verified.
The sports world was affected too – a fake LeBron James demanded a trade from the Los Angeles Lakers basketball club.
And in politics, users could read an interesting exchange between former US president George W. Bush and Tony Blair, ex-prime minister of the United Kingdom.
Even a fake Donald Trump had his word – obviously, about Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida, the new star of the Republican Party, already overshadowing the ex-president.
Projecting calm, acting erratically
It may look like fun now, but misinformation is one of the bigger problems social media platforms have been battling for years, and Twitter’s case is especially important – in this site, breaking news – fake ones included – can spread at the speed of light.
True, Musk has admitted on a Twitter Spaces with advertisers on Wednesday that some “dumb things” might happen as the company is transformed, and said that “the best way to understand what’s going on with Twitter is use Twitter.”
The platform also scrambled to announce that accounts created on or after November 9, 2022 will be unable to subscribe to Twitter Blue at this time.
This has been done in order to prevent impersonations and scams – yet the case of AppleTV+ shows this preventive measure doesn’t really prevent holders of older accounts from playing around, nefariously or not.
In any case, precisely the billionaire’s actions – and reactions to chaotic scenes on Twitter – don’t exactly convince advertisers, the same people he hopes will drag the platform out of trouble.
For example, on Wednesday morning, some accounts belonging to high-profile personalities and organizations were marked with the new gray “official” tick – again, signifying authenticity.
The gray check was introduced the day before by Twitter’s Product Executive Esther Crawford. “A lot of folks have asked about how you'll be able to distinguish between @TwitterBlue subscribers with blue checkmarks and accounts that are verified as official, which is why we’re introducing the ‘Official’ label to select accounts when we launch,” she wrote on Twitter.
But just hours later, Musk himself replied to a tweet, saying that he had “killed” the gray tag and adding that the blue tick would be the “great leveler.” He later also said that the blue check “is another way of creating a two-class system.”
It remains to be seen if advertisers will be reassured. With time, maybe, but several major companies, such as General Motors, General Mills, Pfizer, Volkswagen, and others, have already paused spending on ad buys on the platform.
As for average users, it’s worth remembering that only 423,000 Twitter profiles are verified, even though the platform has around 240 million daily active users. And a new survey by All About Cookies shows that only 28% of users would pay the monthly fee for Twitter Bue.
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