OK, hear me out. Elon Musk is — for now, at least — proposing an $8-per-month tier of Twitter that would give users some additional benefits, including allowing them to keep their verified badge. People are not happy. But what if…this actually isn’t such a bad idea at all?
Let’s put aside the verification issue for a moment. What Musk is proposing is a price hike on Twitter Blue, the existing $4.99-per-month feature that gives subscribers some extra features, including access to the edit button. Other features include a tab of “Top Articles” where you can see what links your friends are all tweeting — it’s similar to the old service Nuzzle — and a 30-second “undo send” grace period. You can also, uh, change the color of your Twitter app icon on your phone.
These extra features are modest, for now. Maybe if the features were a little more robust, $8 would feel more worth it. Look, I know admitting you love Twitter isn’t “cool,” and the idea of actually paying for it seems even dorkier. But let’s be honest with ourselves about how glued to this app we actually are.
I should disclose here that I am a craven sicko who currently pays for Twitter Blue. And you know what? I’m happy to. I’m not going to sit here and pretend I hate “the hellsite.” I’m a messy little pisspig for Twitter; I use it every day and mostly enjoy it, and I’m happy to pay a modest fee for some extra features.
Lots of people pay for video game streaming or Adobe Illustrator or weird porn or monkey NFTs.
Plenty of people — almost certainly including you — currently pay for all sorts of subscriptions and services. I pay for Netflix and iCloud storage space. I pay for the ad-free versions of Spotify and a shitty mobile Solitaire game. I pay for Hulu, but not ad-free. I pay to get extra Patreon-only episodes of my favorite podcast. Once, in the 2000s, I paid $10 to access Something Awful forums. Lots of people pay for video game streaming or Adobe Illustrator or weird porn or monkey NFTs.
Getting people to pay for a premium web service isn’t reinventing the wheel! And creating more revenue by convincing more people to pay for Twitter Blue isn’t exactly a 6D chess business strategy.
The problem, of course, is the whole verification thing.
Elon Musk insists that verified accounts will have to pay for Twitter Blue to keep their checkmark. At first, he floated the idea of $20 per month just to stay verified, but after some back and forth with Stephen King, Musk decided $8 was more reasonable — and he’d toss in some extra features for Twitter Blue, like fewer ads and higher prominence in replies and search.
Verified users are predictably horrified by the prospect. Partly because they don’t want to have to pay (reasonable!), partly because they don’t want to have to admit they love being verified enough to pay (cringe!), and partly because they know it’s a solidly disastrous idea. Stripping unpaid accounts of verified status will immediately open the floodgates to impersonators and misinformation. Having only a partially verified population on Twitter is like knowing only a little parkour: extremely dangerous.
Musk is not wrong about one thing: Twitter’s verification system is fundamentally broken.
Any blue check who insists to you today that verification is simply to prevent impersonators is either lying to themselves or very stupid.
The initial idea was to identify the legitimate celebrities on the app, who occasionally had imposters. (One of the most hilarious hangovers from this era is the fact that Donald Trump’s Twitter handle was @realdonaldtrump.) But any blue check who insists to you today that verification is simply to prevent impersonators is either lying to themselves or very stupid. Verification became a fucked-up status symbol as Twitter started giving blue checks to more than just A-list celebrities or @CNN. By 2014, Twitter was verifying whole newsrooms through a process that usually entailed someone who worked at a media outlet sending over a list of employee handles.
Twitter wanted to be known as a place for news and wanted to encourage journalists to tweet more (a real wishing-on-a-monkey’s-paw situation, it turned out). They rightly guessed that handing out a verification check mark was enough of an ego stroke to that crowd that they’d happily start tweeting more.
Thus there became a massive middle class of verified users who weren’t at all famous and not in much danger of impersonation, but enjoyed its benefits. Verification often led to more followers, and more followers could in turn lead to professional success. Verification also offered some technical perks: a feature to sort your notifications by verified-only replies and faves and access to performance data about your tweets. It also meant that if you ever had a problem with your account, you could get concierge help instead of going through the normie support channels.
Twitter itself acknowledged how the checkmark meant more than just “this person is who they say they are”: It started using the removal of a checkmark as a moderation cudgel for misbehaving accounts. In 2016, far-right personality Milo Yiannopoulos was stripped of his verified status before he was ultimately banned. On one hand, taking the check away was Twitter’s way of saying it didn’t endorse him, but it also was pretty clearly a move made to insult and piss him off. (It worked!)
Musk’s tweet about “lords and peasants” is very annoying, because it’s very irritating to have the richest person on earth invoke the feudal system as a metaphor about why people should be paying him more to farm (tweet) his land (platform). But…he’s got a point. The verification process does create an arbitrary two-tiered system that has strayed far from its original mission of stopping impersonators.
His impulse to charge for verification is right on two counts. First, that the mass of non-famous blue check people are annoying and deserve to be revealed for the status-hungry craven little worms they are (guilty as charged). Second, that power users of services will pay for better features. But these two truths are separate issues and need their own solutions.
It’s OK to dunk on Elon Musk for being annoying and stupid about this.
Maybe there’s a way to truly fix the verification system. Maybe expanding the way Twitter provides labels under the handles for prominent people like politicians, while somehow de-emphasizing the blue check. Maybe there are way more appealing features Twitter Blue could offer. I don’t know! I’m not being paid to fix Twitter!
It’s OK to dunk on Elon Musk for being annoying and stupid about this. It’s also OK to laugh at the idea of low-level verified people being terrified to lose their silly little participation trophy blue check. It’s also OK to say that a highly incentivized paid tier of Twitter isn’t such a bad idea. We can hold all three of these thoughts in our heads at the same time!
One of my favorite tweets is “If I pay $40 for a haunted house I better die.” By that same logic, I’m willing to pay $96 a year just to stick around and see how this shitshow ends.