On 20 April 2023 (presumably chosen because it’s 420, aka ‘weed day’, and Elon Musk has a teenager’s sense of humour) all Twitter blue checkmarks were removed from all legacy verified accounts. And chaos ensued.
For those not bothered enough to keep up with the latest Musk drama, blue checkmarks used to be reserved for public figures and organisations in order to combat impersonation—the same is done across other social media platforms like Instagram.
When he bought Twitter, Musk decided to “democratise” blue ticks, and make a pretty penny while doing so, incorporating them into his $8 per month ‘Twitter Blue’ subscription, alongside other perks. However, there are now gold checkmarks for certain official organisations, including Twitter itself and other corporations like Disney or the BBC. Meanwhile, grey checks have also been introduced, this time for governmental or multilateral organisations, including heads of state and other government channels.
As of Thursday, blue checkmarks were meant to be reserved only for Twitter Blue subscribers—but even that didn’t last long. When many prominent users, including horror author Stephen King and professional basketball player LeBron James, refused to pay for the new verification, Musk forced it upon them.
Many were initially confused. Critics jumped on the opportunity to accuse the A-listers of lying, or hypocrisy. Soon however, it emerged that all legacy verified users with over one million followers had been comped a blue check. Struggling to keep up? No wonder, Twitter is too.
Sporting a blue check quickly became understood as tacit support for Musk and his management ethos: free speech absolutism (even if that means platforming eugenicists and literal Nazis), getting rid of thousands of Twitter employees without notice, and making nonsensical and unwanted changes to Twitter’s user interface (UI).
The Elon Musk fan club is very vocal and very devout. No matter what he does, they will cheer him on. Many of those who came to his defence used spurious reasoning: arguing that the $8 per month price tag is as valuable as the daily coffee you buy on your way to work, or your subscription to Netflix. Except you know these actually provide you a service.
“I paid for free speech,” tweeted one user, seemingly immune to irony. “I paid for the Founding Fathers’ vision. I paid to tell Silicon Valley to screw itself,” he continued. Again, he seems utterly oblivious to the fact that Musk is a South African business magnate and a major presence in Silicon Valley.
Even @dril, a pseudonymous Twitter user known for many viral, surreal, and hilarious tweets, briefly had a blue tick foisted upon it, to which @dril reacted by constantly changing his name in order to lose the checkmark that kept appearing. Twitter eventually gave up. Chrissie Teigen, no stranger to Twitter drama herself, was offering advice on how to escape the unwanted blue check. Yep, you read that right…
The lack of transparency caused widespread confusion. Previously, Musk had tweeted major business decisions—often without consulting his team at Twitter—not unlike how Donald Trump ran his White House. But over the course of the weekend, it was difficult to tell who was and who wasn’t genuinely verified.
A fake @DisneyJuniorUK account briefly gained a gold checkmark, but has since been suspended. Disney are famously litigious, and given the profile quickly tweeted out a number of profanities and falsehoods, the next steps could be interesting. The official Twitter page for the Auschwitz Memorial posted: “We seem obliged to clarify that the Memorial never subscribed and paid for the Twitter Blue as it might be implied.”
Bella Ramsay and Pedro Pascal, co-stars of the award-winning HBO series The Last Of Us, both publicly quit Twitter. Many other actors, writers, and other public figures have been leaving since Musk’s takeover, not wanting to become involved in the ongoing petty politics or to risk getting involved in the imminent swaths of impersonation.
As Slate summarised, the whole debacle was a “weekend-long masterclass in business failure.” Between the chaos at Twitter, the high-profile rocket launch at SpaceX that ended with an explosion, and poor first-quarter returns at Tesla, Musk’s wealth reportedly dropped by $13 billion in one single day. Earlier this year, he set the world record for the largest loss of personal fortune in history.
The past week has been often hilarious. In fact, since Musk’s takeover, the ritual and routine roasting of him across Twitter has been some of the finest content in the platform’s history. However, it also feels like the beginning of the end.
First, Musk introduced the ‘For You’ tab, which provides content from accounts users don’t follow already, literally the opposite of what many asked for. Now, blue check content and replies are prioritised, increasingly flooding your feed, whether you like it or not. There is a significant overlap between Musk supporters, MAGA types, anti-vaxxers, transphobes—in short, reactionaries and right-wing conspiracy theorists.
Twitter has always struggled to handle such extremities but these are precisely the types that Musk seems to want to bring into the fold. He has emboldened them, empowered them, and made their tweets inescapable, all for only $8 a month.