Twitter users will soon be able to buy a blue tick “just like celebrities” for $8 a month

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Twitter has announced a subscription service for US$7.99 a month that includes a blue check now granted only to verified accounts as new owner Elon Musk works to revamp the platform’s verification system ahead of the US election mid-term.

In an update to Apple iOS devices available in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK, Twitter said users who “sign up now” can receive the blue tick at next to their name “just like the celebrities, businesses and politicians you once followed.”

But Twitter employee Esther Crawford tweeted on Saturday that “the new Blue is not live yet – the sprint towards our launch continues, but some people may see us making updates as we test and push real-time changes. Verified accounts didn’t seem to lose their checks so far.

It was not immediately clear when the subscription would go live, and Crawford did not immediately respond to a message to clarify the timing. Twitter also did not immediately respond to a message for comment.

There are concerns that anyone who can get the blue check could lead to confusion and mounting misinformation ahead of Tuesday’s election, but Musk tweeted on Saturday in response to a question about the risk of impostors impersonating verified people – as politicians and election officials. — that “Twitter will suspend the impersonating account and keep the money!”

“So if the scammers want to do this a million times over, it’s just a whole bunch of free money,” he said.

But many fear the widespread layoffs that began on Friday will undermine the safeguards of content moderation and vetting on the social platform that state agencies, election commissions, police departments and the media use to keep people reliably informed.

The change represents the end of Twitter’s current verification system, which was launched in 2009 to prevent impersonations of high profile accounts such as celebrities and politicians. Prior to the overhaul, Twitter had about 423,000 verified accounts, many of which were grassroots journalists around the world that the company verified, regardless of its follower count.

Experts have raised serious concerns about changes to the platform’s verification system which, while flawed, has helped Twitter’s 238 million daily users determine if the accounts they are getting information from are genuine . Current verified accounts include celebrities, athletes, influencers and other high-profile public figures, as well as government agencies and politicians around the world, journalists and news outlets, activists, businesses and organizations. brands, and Musk himself.

“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 a social media expert. “He has to earn people’s trust before he can sell them anything. Why would you buy a car from a salesman you know turned out to be essentially chaotic?”

People walk past Twitter’s headquarters in San Francisco on Friday. (Jeff Chiu/Associated Press)

The update Twitter made to the iOS version of its app doesn’t mention verification as part of the new “blue check” system. So far, the update is not available on Android devices.

Musk, who previously said he wanted to “verify all humans” on Twitter, hinted that public figures would be identified by means other than the blue check mark. Currently, for example, government officials are identified with text under the names indicating that they are posting from an official government account.

President Joe Biden’s @POTUS account, for example, says in gray letters that it belongs to a “United States government official.”

Massive layoffs of staff

The change comes a day after the company began laying off workers to cut costs and more companies are suspending advertising on Twitter as a cautious business community waits to see how it will perform under its control. new owner.

About half of the company’s 7,500 employees have been laid off, tweeted Yoel Roth, Twitter’s chief security and integrity officer.

He said the company’s frontline content moderation staff were the group least affected by the job cuts and that “election integrity efforts – including harmful misinformation that can suppress the vote and the fight against state-sponsored information operations – remain a top priority”.

Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey blamed the widespread job losses on Saturday. He had two terms as CEO of Twitter, the most recent spanning from 2015 to 2021.

“I take responsibility for why everyone is in this situation: I grew the company too quickly,” he tweeted. “I apologize for that.”

Musk tweeted Friday night that there was no choice but to cut the jobs “when the company is losing over $4 million a day.” He did not provide details of the company’s daily losses and said employees who lost their jobs were offered three months’ salary as severance pay.

Questions about content moderation

Musk also said Twitter has already seen “a massive drop in revenue” as advertisers come under pressure from activists to leave the platform, which relies heavily on ad revenue.

United Airlines on Saturday became the latest major brand to suspend advertising on Twitter, joining companies including General Motors, REI, General Mills and Audi.

Musk tried to reassure advertisers last week, saying Twitter would not become a “free hellscape for all” because of what he calls his commitment to free speech.

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and new owner of Twitter, is seen in New York on Friday. (Baron Capital/Associated Press)

But concerns remain over whether a lighter touch on content moderation on Twitter will result in users sending out more offensive tweets. It could harm companies’ brands if their ads appear next to them.

On Saturday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Turk, urged Musk to “ensure that human rights are at the heart of the management of Twitter”. In an open letter, Turk said the firing of the company’s entire human rights team and much of the ethics AI team was not “an encouraging start.”

“Like all businesses, Twitter needs to understand the harms associated with its platform and take steps to address them,” Turk said. “Respect for our shared human rights should set the safeguards for the use and evolution of the platform.”

Meanwhile, Twitter can’t just cut costs to boost profits, and Musk needs to find ways to generate more revenue, said Wedbush analyst Dan Ives. But that may be easier said than done with the new blue check subscription program.

“Users got it for free,” Ives said. “There may be a massive pushback.”

He expects 20-25% of verified Twitter users to sign up initially. The stakes are high for Musk and Twitter to succeed early and signups to work properly, he added.

“You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression,” Ives said. “It was a train wreck in the first week for Musk, owner of the Twitter platform. Now you’ve cut 50% [of the workforce]. There are questions about the platform’s stability, and advertisers are watching that with a keen eye.”

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