It looks like a case of “monkey see, monkey do.” On Jan. 19, Mark Zuckerberg announced Meta is testing a subscription service that will allow Facebook and Instagram users to get verified, sparking debate among creators already skeptical from the similar late 2022 launch of Twitter’s new subscription product including verification, Twitter Blue.
“This week we’re starting to roll out Meta Verified — a subscription service that lets you verify your account with a government ID, get a blue badge, get extra impersonation protection against accounts claiming to be you, and get direct access to customer support,” Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post. “This new feature is about increasing authenticity and security across our services.”
“Meta Verified” will start at $11.99 a month on the web or $14.99 a month on iOS, and it’s starting its rollout in Australia and New Zealand with “more countries soon” as of February 2023. Users must be 18 and older to be eligible, and Meta clarified that there will be no changes to accounts that are already verified.
In a statement to Passionfruit, a Meta representative said the company is being “thoughtful” to test future iterations of its premium offering.
“We will display follower count in more places so people can distinguish which accounts are well-known among accounts that share the same name. As we test and learn, we’ll explore additional ways to signal when a verified account is well-known. Building free tools to help creators reach an audience and make a living continues to be a priority across the company,” Meta stated.
However, the news sparked controversy among creators. Ethan Trace (@ethantrace), who has 3.2 million followers on TikTok, created a video that uses the metaphor of a high school athlete earning a Varsity jacket to illustrate how purchasing verification essentially renders verification useless for those who have become public figures.
“Now you have so many people walking around in varsity letter jackets,” he said, “you don’t even know who the actual varsity athletes are.”
Trace told Passionfruit that people like creators, stand-up comedians, singers, and journalists are public figures who need unique verification status to protect their identities, prevent others from impersonating them on social media, and differentiate themselves online.
“[We] put in years of work building our followings and creating communities to the point where we ourselves have risen to the point of being notable figures too,” Trace said. “And for someone to just come in and say, ‘Hey, anyone can be verified now if you just pay for it,’ is absolutely ridiculous.”
As previously covered by Passionfruit, the launch of a similar subscription product, Twitter Blue, caused confusion and division on the platform. When Musk purchased Twitter in October 2022, he overhauled the “blue checkmark” system which offered identity verification for notable creators, public figures, celebrities, and brands.
In addition to verification, Twitter Blue offers priority ranking for subscribers’ tweets as well as the ability to edit tweets and upload longer videos, among other perks.
Some are excited about new perks and the possibility of opening doors for more people to verify their identities on social media. However, this all depends on who wants to pay for the program.
After the announcement of Meta Verified, Judy Shapiro, a journalist who covers ethical advertising technology (adtech) tweeted, “But of course Zuckerberg would jump on the verified bandwagon. … A new battle is emerging as, IMHO, most people won’t pay for both Twitter and FB. Anyone wanna lay odds on who win the battle of verified attrition?”
Paris Marx (@parismarx), who writes the technology newsletter Disconnect, examined what Meta Verified might mean in the larger context of the platform’s stagnation.
“The model these social media platforms were built on is in deep crisis,” Marx said in their newsletter. “Facebook has a large legacy user base but has been stagnating and failing to attract young people for years…meanwhile, Instagram is always trying to keep up with more engaging platforms, only to piss off the users who liked it as a photo-sharing service, not a subpar TikTok clone.”
Marx is also skeptical that people will start paying for Facebook and Instagram after years of not. This echoes the sentiment that many other social media users have been discussing, especially in regard to paying for “direct” customer support.
“[Customer support] really should just be part of the core product, the user should not have to pay for this. Clearly, it’s known by Meta this is filling a need, why profit additionally from it?” one Facebook user commented on Zuckerberg’s post about the announcement.
“We already provide protections and some support for everyone,” Zuckerberg replied in a comment. “But verifying government IDs and providing direct access to customer support for millions or billions of people costs a significant amount of money. Subscription fees will cover this and will also pace how many people sign up so we’ll be able to ensure quality as we scale.”
However, as adtech industry watcher Nandini Jammi (@nandoodles) noted in a tweet, in this economy, creators paying for yet another subscription service, doesn’t seem realistic.
“$8/month for Twitter Blue $15/month for Meta Verified = $23/month, in an economy where eggs are $10/carton. … Wonder how this will shake out,” Jammi wrote.
In a statement to Passionfruit, Meta said it recognizes Meta Verified might not be “an option economically for some creators.”
“As we test, learn and expand we are continuing to explore how we can best support all creators, both with Meta Verified and our free products,” Meta said.
Still, many creators are opposed to having to pay for the service. “Why should we pay for something that employees at Instagram should already be doing for us in the first place? It’s their job,” TikToker Trace told Passionfruit.
Musician and YouTuber David Choi shared his dismay and encouraged his followers to start an email campaign in opposition.
“Everyone in Australia and New Zealand needs to send crazy amounts of email complaints and reasons why it’s terrible so they scrap the product altogether. And most importantly, please don’t pay for it,” he tweeted.
Given how many people, specifically creators, were dissatisfied with Twitter Blue’s chaotic relaunch, it’s hard to imagine that Meta’s attempt to follow in Twitter’s footsteps will turn out any differently.
Let’s all remember what journalist Kara Swisher wrote at the time of Twitter’s 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, f*** that.”