Elon Musk wants Twitter to make money, and apparently the first place he looks is for the power users. Over the weekend, we learned that Musk plans to charge $20 a month for a Twitter verification badge, an update that may be rolling out next month. It’s a change that fits with Musk’s plans to make Twitter’s premium subscription service more valuable to the most active users. But verification plays a central role in building trust for Twitter — and Musk’s proposal could erode that trust just as the platform threatens to spiral out of control.
Each social network produces a unique style of posting, and Twitter’s design encourages something somewhat paradoxical: It’s part newswire, part bullshit. On the one hand, Twitter is like a next-generation Bloomberg terminal where journalists post firsts and live coverage before it reaches their websites and where politicians, businesses and government agencies make official announcements about everything from customer service complaints to hurricane warnings. On the other hand, it is home to @horse_ebooks, Weird Twitter, a plethora of pseudonymous crypto evangelists and fandom stans, the Gorilla Channel tweet, and too many parody accounts to list. The first category benefits from Twitter’s standard public feed and rapid-fire text snippet format — the second from how easy you can create accounts that aren’t associated with a real name or face and fire out bizarre jokes or hottakes.
At their best, these two Twitter styles are complementary. The inherent seriousness of Newswire Twitter heightens the humor and absurdity of Nonsense Twitter, and Nonsense Twitter’s style spills over into Newswire Twitter, doing things like turning government consumer protection agencies into memelolords. There’s even room for the occasional dose of chaos, like DPRK News: the fake North Korean propaganda feed that has fooled several news outlets, including: The edge.
A blue check mark is an essential timeout in the game of Twitter nonsense
But the system works (as far as it is doing work) because verification helps separate order from chaos. A blue check mark is an essential time-out in the game of Twitter, indicating that you can reasonably believe that a person, agency or brand speaks for itself. It removes the guesswork of scanning an account’s tweets and profile to gauge its accuracy, especially in a rapidly changing situation such as a scandal, election, or public health emergency. It’s the seal of authenticity that licenses serious accounts to be playful, relying on readers to verify their credentials.
All of this may sound like an argument for Musk’s new plan. If you like Beyoncé or McDonald’s or the . are Associated Press$240 a year isn’t much to pay for maintaining that sense of confidence.
But for a lot of individual Twitter accounts, the badge’s value seems fuzzy. Many of those government agencies mentioned earlier are already on to pennies, and your average GGD or police probably won’t have a verification badge handy in case that it should suddenly tweet about a local emergency without being mistaken for a troll. Many celebrities can easily be drawn to platforms like Instagram where they can be verified for free. There’s a chance that Twitter is sparking a trend of paid verification everywhere… but a higher chance that Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, and other platforms see it as small potatoes compared to their core advertising and revenue-sharing businesses.
Twitter needs a verified user pool more than many individual verified users need Twitter
As Twitter verification turns into the province of big brands and some mind influencers, Newswire Twitter’s group of participants shrinks dramatically, and so does Twitter’s value to those big brands and celebrities. $240 may not be a lot of money, but hiring a social media manager costs a lot more; why pay them to post on a site where most accounts are not considered trustworthy? It also cuts into Musk’s claim that trust is a… already a huge problem for Twitter, removing one of the few signals available to build it. As misleading as his claims that he “would verify all people” seemed, there’s also little point in doing the exact opposite.
I think there is a reasonable argument for some sort of paid verification. For example, a nominal maintenance fee would solve the real problem of abandoned verified accounts being hacked and taken over by spammers. (It’s not the only way, of course — you could just demand a manual renewal for inactive accounts.) More broadly, Twitter authentication has been a mess for years — sporadically available, poorly managed, and granted on confusing and obscure grounds. But many of the accounts that Twitter benefits the most, such as government agencies and activists (or other non-entertainer public figures) who are often impersonated by harassment campaigns, are the least able or willing to pay a $20 monthly fee. Pay. And to be blunt, Twitter needs more of a verified user base than many people who need little blue ticks.