When I heard that Elon Musk, the new gatekeeper of the town square that is Twitter, was floating the idea of charging users a monthly fee to have their profile verified with a blue checkmark, I decided it was the perfect time to get a checkmark on my own account. Then I could properly get all indignant when Elon tried to charge me for it.
The thing is, I wasn’t able to. It’s not just about proving you are who you say you are, but that who you say you are meets their notability and/or following on the platform requirements. I also tried to get this site’s account verified, and while we do have the following and the legitimacy, no one’s created a Wikipedia article on us (hint, hint…I can’t do it myself), so it’s presently a no-go.
Oh well…back to Musk’s exchange with Stephen King, the one where the author said he wouldn’t pay $20 a month for a blue checkmark on principle and the new Twitter owner tried to talk him down to $8. I found something in his second reply quite interesting:
“It is the only way to eliminate the bots & trolls.”
Wait! What? How many bots and trolls does he think have blue checkmarks currently? Seeing as I couldn’t get one, I doubt very much that a bot could.
Then I read that Musk claims that he wants to get rid of the “lords and peasants” system that he thinks Twitter currently has and plans to offer “half as many ads” and “priority in replies, mentions & search” to verified users, which will probably be better referred to as subscribers going forward. Now the plan is becoming clear.
It’s not about shaking down Stephen King, William Shatner and other celebrities for $8 a month (though it would be hilarious if that was the case). It’s also not about leveling the playing field as Musk’s lords and peasants comment would suggest.
While I’m sure that the current eligibility requirements for Twitter verification will be replaced with something more simple like proving your identity and providing a payment method, allowing pretty much anyone who can afford it to get a blue checkmark, this isn’t opening any doors or leveling the playing field one bit. Instead, it’s using the cloak of a symbol of importance to mask the transition of Twitter into a paid subscription service.
If this is the “only way to eliminate the bots” then it stands to reason that any account that doesn’t opt to pay for the “verification” will be treated like a bot. The focus on celebrity reaction has masked what’s really happening.
If Twitter is the town square, then Elon Musk is charging cover to the town square. Though it may not be the town square for much longer.
Some will leave. Others will wait and see. And some will get the blue checkmark subscription because they feel they have to. Musk has essentially devalued a feature and put a price tag on it at the same time.
Maybe he hopes Twitter will turn into some sort of niche subscription service with significantly fewer users than before but who now pay. That could explain his reported plan to lay off half the company’s workforce tomorrow.
Or maybe he doesn’t know what he’s doing. Which could explain why he’s reportedly ending the company’s work from anywhere policy. Forcing employees of a company with no physical products to work from the office.
Either way, maybe we should treat our digital town square as a public service rather than a for-profit business subject to the whims of a billionaire like Musk who gets duped into buying it.