Remember when Elon Musk said all legacy verified accounts not subscribed to Twitter Blue would lose their blue tick on April 1? Well, that didn’t happen—but he did end up making good on his word, partly, by removing blue ticks from most legacy verified accounts 19 days later, on April 20.
However, Musk non-consensually gave blue ticks to a number of high-profile legacy verified accounts with 1 million followers or above, with a note misleadingly saying they paid for Twitter Blue and provided their cellphone numbers for verification. Many of these accounts, including Steven King, Lil Nas X, Alyssa Milano, and Kara Swisher, stressed online that they did not pay for Twitter Blue, provide their phone number, or want a blue check—and did not want to be seen as someone who would.
This situation mounted the inherent stigma that comes with being a person who “pays for Twitter.” Because the $8-a-month Twitter Blue subscription is, according to the site, designed to “boost” your tweets’ reach on the “Trending” and “For You” pages, this leaves creators with a difficult choice. Do they pay up for Twitter Blue, knowing that this is a surefire way to be favored by the algorithm? Or do they try and navigate Twitter 2.0 without it in order to avoid reputational risk?
For some, the question is a no-brainer, as writer Kara Swisher wrote at the time of Twitter’s burgeoning blue check controversy: “I would not pay a dime for verification. In fact, social media should pay its creators and treat them with respect, instead of unleashing knuckleheads on them. Like I said, fuck that.”
However, increased reach might be appealing for some smaller creators looking to make a living from their art and content online. In an experiment, freelance social media marketer Annie Mai subscribed to Twitter Blue to see if her account’s favoritism by the algorithm would lead to more clients and, by extension, more financial success.
Sharing her results on Twitter, Mai noted that while she saw a stark increase in post impressions, account mentions, profile visits, and follower count, none of this translated into work leads, freelance clients, or money made.
“So is it worth it?” she asked in a tweet alongside her findings. “It depends. For me, absolutely – it’s a no brainer because I work in social, it’s my career and it’s not a platform I’m trying to get leads or clients from. But for other people and other businesses, it totally depends what your goals are and if you want to give away money each month just to ensure your content is seen.”
An impossible choice
Where does this leave creators, whose income depends not just on content being seen, but being engaged with? And further to that, why does it seem so few people want to engage with Twitter Blue accounts?
Dr. Jenna Drenten, a digital consumer culture researcher, suspects it’s because of how Twitter Blue subscribers are perceived by the platform’s wider audience.
“It would be easy to say that creators should just pay for the blue check to get access to its prioritized features, but that would be disregarding the cultural shift that has taken place around the meaning of the blue check,” she said in an email statement to Passionfruit. “Creators who pay for it are seen as sellouts, clout-chasers, and attention-seekers. Yet, the platform is structured in ways that prioritize content from blue check users.”
If small creators want to succeed on Twitter, Dr. Drenten argues that they face an impossible choice.
“Creators are forced to choose between paying for the blue check and being negatively perceived by others, versus not paying for the blue check and being negatively impacted by having their content deprioritized,” she explained. “It seems like a lose-lose situation for creators whose livelihoods and ability to connect with their communities are directly attached to the whims of Twitter’s algorithms.”
Guess that’s why they call it the Blues
So, what’s next for creators? Should they abandon Twitter for another platform, like the recently debuted Bluesky Social or T2, or the previously viral alternative platforms like Mastodon and Hive Social?
Ryan Broderick, the creator of Garbage Day, a Webby Award-winning Substack publication dedicated to explaining the latest developments in internet culture and technology, dedicates his career to researching and understanding the creator space. He told Passionfruit via direct message that, despite its shortcomings, completely leaving Twitter could be a risky move for creators.
“The Twitter alternatives like Mastodon are too small to really move the needle, and the bigger platforms like Instagram are so algorithmically optimized that what does well on them doesn’t make sense beyond the context of that platform,” Broderick said. “The only bright spot here is maybe if creators are forced to leave Twitter we might start getting new websites and more interesting projects.”