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The Rise and Fall of Twitter’s Blue Tick

Photo credit: @HTXJAX/Twitter remix by Jason Reed

Analysis

According to Twitter CEO Elon Musk, legacy verified accounts will be a thing of the past come April 2023. “Blue ticks” in their current form will remain, but only for those who subscribed to Twitter Blue. But with Twitter Blue’s ID-based vetting process being non-existent, the loss of genuine, identity-verified legacy blue ticks means that we’ll be ushering in a new, more dangerous era of Twitter rife with misinformation and impersonation.

Since he took over Twitter late last year, Elon Musk has been wrong about, well, pretty much everything. It’s gotten to a point where the extent to which he’s been wrong about stuff is genuinely hilarious—as demonstrated by Elon’s claim, sent to Twitter employees, that the company is currently only worth less than half what he paid for it.

But there’s one thing which, at least partially, he was right about. Back in the Before Musk era, Twitter blue ticks were, in part, a status symbol. Was it weird to consider blue ticks a status symbol? Yes. A bit pathetic? Most definitely.

But take it from someone who works as a journalist, who was verified on Twitter themselves for the purpose of their job. In the media industry, at least, there was a point in time when a lot of people thought that the very fact that there was a risk of you being impersonated—that you were someone worth impersonating—meant that you could wear your Twitter blue tick as a badge of honor. 

Of course, this logic in and of itself was flawed, because you don’t have to be a public figure to be impersonated, as that happens to nobodies on the internet all the time. But there was something about the legacy verified criteria judging an account as “notable” that tickled a lot of people’s egos in just the right way.

However, Twitter’s blue ticks being a status symbol is not, as Musk thought, its primary purpose. It was merely a perk of the very necessary need to have one’s identity verified on the internet. But by isolating the elitism surrounding the blue tick from its actual purpose, Elon has killed it for good. Here’s how it happened.

Legacy verified accounts explained

Prior to Musk’s hostile takeover of Twitter, an account would be verified based on three key qualities: it had to be authentic, notable, and active.

When it came to being considered notable by Twitter, your account had to broadly fall under one of the following defining categories: government entity, news outlet, journalist, company, brand, organization, activist, organizer, influencer, content creator, entertainment, sports, and gaming. 

The “notable” criteria were arguably the ones that caused the most concern around elitism on Twitter because it meant that not everyone had the option to get their identity verified. 

The legacy verification system was never perfect, that much was true, but in introducing blue ticks to Twitter Blue, it seemed like Elon got so caught up in what constitutes “notable,” he failed to consider the other, much more important factor: authenticity.

According to Twitter’s own legacy verified criteria, being authentic simply means that you are who you say are. Under the old system, Twitter would verify an account’s authenticity through identity-based verification. How exactly an account proved this depended on what category they fell under, but it usually meant providing some kind of ID-based corroborating evidence. 

So, if the account seeking verification was an organization, they’d have to submit evidence like their official website and other documents. If the account holder was an individual, they’d be required to provide evidence like a passport photo or driver’s license.

Now, in this new era of Twitter,  while accounts that impersonate others (including those subscribed to Twitter Blue) are technically against the policy, this type of ID-based verification is no longer enforced as it was before. You don’t need to submit ID-based documentation before getting a blue tick: to be approved for Twitter Blue, all people have to do is have a username, profile picture, and an active account.

The problem with Twitter Blue

When Twitter Blue was rolled out to anyone who paid the $8 monthly fee, there was something of Armageddon. The weight of authority a blue tick carried meant that hundreds of users were able to make believable parody accounts of all kinds of public figures including George Bush, Tony Blair, the Pope, and even Elon Musk himself.

While many of these “verified” accounts were used for comedic purposes, it was a stark realization of how using and abusing an established identity verification symbol could lead to misinformation and real-world consequences. 

This concern was later proven to be justified when a fake Eli Lilly account managed to fool millions into believing they were slashing the price of insulin. The impact of this misinformation was so stark, it led to the organization’s stock plummeting, and in turn, the price of insulin was reduced for real.

The Eli Lilly case is a rare example of what can happen when this type of security breach can act as a force for good, holding institutions to account. But what is happening more on a day-to-day basis is people abusing the Twitter Blue function to impersonate journalists and other notable figures in order to troll and scam people. On a larger scale, another Twitter Blue account went viral for impersonating a news outlet and inciting violence against transgender people. 

At present, it’s easy to see who the trolls are and who the legitimate accounts are by the ability to distinguish between “Legacy Verified” or Twitter Blue verified accounts. But with the ‘legacy verified’ ticks being removed from April 1, it will no longer be possible to do this. It will only be possible to tell who is and isn’t real by the gold tick, grey tick, or company logo. 

According to Twitter’s own press release in December 2022, the new gold checkmark was only applied to “some” businesses automatically with the launch of Twitter Blue. Other organizations considered to be eligible for gold marks must apply for Twitter Verification for Organizations to get the golden checkmark and square company logo. This comes with a subscription fee.

Meanwhile, verification under the grey checkmark is free to apply for but only applies to the official Twitter accounts of governments or individual politicians. This leaves the vast majority of individuals who might be at risk of impersonation unable to get any meaningful identity verification because even with a Twitter Blue checkmark, it’s all too easy for other subscribers to impersonate you. 

Why the blue tick is dead and gone

So, while the “blue tick” in itself will still continue from April 1, it has become something of an empty symbol. It no longer serves its purpose of confirming one’s identity, and so the pedigree that once was inherent in it, and what made it attractive to Musk in the first place, is no longer there.

All that remains is the empty shallowness and arrogance that going out of your way to buy a blue tick represents. It’s gotten to the point now where it’s become such a point of ridicule, a feature is reportedly being tested for Twitter Blue users to hide the tick from their profile. 

Musk is still trying everything he can to make Twitter Blue relevant, from making a Twitter Blue profile’s content be favored by the algorithm or making it so that only Twitter Blue subscribers can vote in polls. In fact, he even announced on March 27 that only Twitter Blue subscribers will be featured in the platform’s new algorithmically driven “For You” feed, only later adding that users you follow will also be in the feed.

While claiming to be against elitism, Musk made it possible to pay for priority tweets and a flexy membership symbol based on who is financially able (or at least, willing) to pay for a subscription.

Yet, the most ironic part of the blue tick discourse is that the thing Musk is chasing so desperately no longer exists. The removal of legacy verification is the final nail in the “little bird” app’s coffin. Twitter is dead, and Musk has killed it. But it was fun while it lasted, right?

Update 2:10pm CT, April 4: Although Twitter announced plans to revoke verification badges from “legacy” verified accounts starting April 1, not all accounts disappeared right away. A few legacy verified accounts appear to have lost their checkmarks, including the New York Times‘ Twitter account, but many others remain. Read more in our story here.

Correction: This article has been updated to attribute a claim that Twitter halved in value to calculations done by Elon Musk according to an internal memo.