Twitter updates its app in Apple's App Store to begin charging for sought-after blue check verification marks, in Elon Musk’s first major revision of the social media platform.
Twitter has announced a subscription service for $7.99 a month that includes a blue check now given only to verified accounts as new owner Elon Musk works to overhaul the platform's verification system just ahead of US midterm elections.
In an update to Apple iOS devices available in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK on Saturday, Twitter said users who "sign up now" for the new "Twitter Blue with verification" can receive the blue check next to their names "just like the celebrities, companies and politicians you already follow."
But Twitter employee Esther Crawford tweeted on Saturday that the "new Blue isn't live yet — the sprint to our launch continues but some folks may see us making updates because we are testing and pushing changes in real-time."
Verified accounts did not appear to be losing their checks so far.
Musk tweeted on Saturday in response to a question about the risk of impostors impersonating verified profiles — such as politicians and election officials — that "Twitter will suspend the account attempting impersonation and keep the money!"
"So if scammers want to do this a million times, that's just a whole bunch of free money," he said.
But many fear widespread layoffs that began on Friday could gut the guardrails of content moderation and verification on the social platform that public agencies, election boards, police departments and news outlets use to keep people reliably informed.
The new Blue isn’t live yet — the sprint to our launch continues but some folks may see us making updates because we are testing and pushing changes in real-time. The Twitter team is legendary. New Blue… coming soon! https://t.co/ewTSTjx3t7— Esther Crawford ✨ (@esthercrawford) November 5, 2022
Musk 'trying to exploit' verified accounts
The change will end Twitter’s current verification system, which was launched in 2009 to prevent impersonations of high-profile accounts such as celebrities and politicians.
Twitter now has about 423,000 verified accounts, many of them rank-and-file journalists from around the globe that the company verified regardless of how many followers they had.
Experts have raised grave concerns about upending the platform's verification system that, while not perfect, has helped Twitter's 238 million daily users determine whether accounts they get information from are authentic.
"He knows the blue check has value, and he's trying to exploit it quickly," said Jennifer Grygiel, an associate professor of communications at Syracuse University and an expert on social media. "He needs to earn the trust of the people before he can sell them anything."
Musk, who had earlier said that he wants to "verify all humans" on Twitter, has floated that public figures would be identified in ways other than the blue check.
The announcement comes a day after Twitter began laying off workers to cut costs and as more companies are pausing advertising on the platform as a cautious corporate world waits to see how it will operate under its new owner.
About half of the company's staff of 7,500 was let go, tweeted Yoel Roth, Twitter's head of safety and integrity.
He said the company's front-line content moderation staff was the group the least affected by the job cuts and that "efforts on election integrity — including harmful misinformation that can suppress the vote and combatting state-backed information operations — remain a top priority."
Trash me all day, but it’ll cost $8— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 5, 2022
'No second chance for first impression'
Meanwhile, Twitter can not simply cut costs to grow profits, and Musk needs to find ways to raise more revenue, said Dan Ives, an analyst with Wedbush. But that may be easier said than done with the new subscription program for blue checks.
"Users have gotten this for free," Ives said. "There may be massive pushback."
He expects 20 percent to 25 percent of Twitter's verified users to sign up initially. The stakes are high for Musk and Twitter to get this right early and for signups to work smoothly, he added.
"You don't have a second chance to make a first impression," Ives said. "It's been a train-wreck first week for Musk owning the Twitter platform. Now you’ve cut 50 percent (of the workforce). There are questions about just the stability of the platform, and advertisers are watching this with a keen eye."