Twitter on Wednesday rolled out a gray “official” check mark next to some social media accounts to indicate that the social media company had verified their authenticity. Within hours, Elon Musk scrapped the plan.
“I just killed it,” the Tesla CEO and Twitter’s new owner said in reply to a comment by a noted technology blogger. “Blue check will be the great leveler.”
For a few hours on Friday morning, various accounts appeared with an “official” designation. Media sites like The Associated Press, The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal received an official designation, as did companies like Nike, Apple and Coca-Cola, along with the musician Taylor Swift, CBS Bay Area.
The two-tiered check mark system was designed to replace Twitter’s current “blue checks,” which signify an account’s authenticity. They’re intended to note that an account is verified, or that it really belongs to the person it claims to be. However, most Twitter users understand the blue check marks to be an indicator of importance or influence.
Musk said he changed his mind about having the two check marks after deciding it wouldn’t solve Twitter’s problem of a dual-class system.
“Apart from it being an aesthetic nightmare when looking at the Twitter feed… it was simply another way of creating a two-class system. It wasn’t addressing the core problem, [that] there were too many entities that were considered ‘official,'” he said on a conference call with advertisers on Wednesday.
“Blue checks” to cost $8
Twitter’s current system of using blue checks to confirm an account’s authenticity will soon go away for those who don’t pay a monthly fee. Instead, people who paywill receive blue checks and have access to some bonus features, such as fewer ads and the ability to have tweets gain greater visibility.
Experts have expressed concern that making the checkmark available to anyone willing to pay a fee could lead to more impostor accounts, misinformation and scams on Twitter. In a live audio conversation on Twitter Spaces on Wednesday Musk vowed to ban Twitter accounts that were impersonating others, saying the company would “actively suspend accounts engaged in deception or trickery of any kind.”
“It will be less special, obviously, to have a check mark, but I think this is a good thing,” he said. “Don’t we believe in, one person one vote? I think we do. I actually don’t like the lords-and-peasants situation where some people have blue check marks and some don’t.”
Musk, who officially took control of Twitter a week ago after completing his $44 billion acquisition, has previously said he’s committed to eliminating spam and bots on the platform. He’s betting that a paywall of $8 a month will raise the bar for authenticity and good behavior, dramatically reducing the amount of harassment and robo-tweets on the platform.
“Creating a fake account is expretemly cheap. Maybe a tenth of a penny. By charging $8 a month it raises the cost of a bot or troll somewhere between 1,000 and 100,000,” he said Wednesday. “The propensity of someone to engage in hate speech, if they have paid $8 and are risking the suspension of their account, is far, far less.”
Musk also warned his followers on Wednesday to prepare for plenty more changes on the platform.
“Please note that Twitter will do lots of dumb things in coming months. We will keep what works & change what doesn’t,” he tweeted.
For Twitter, however, the clock is ticking as a growing list of major companies suspend their advertising amid concerns their brands might be tarnished on a site that Musk has vowed to make more open.
Oreo maker Mondelez International’s CEO Dirk Van de Put told Reuters that the food giant hasbecause of a spike in hate speech on the service following Musk’s takeover.
“What we’ve seen recently since the change on Twitter has been announced, is the amount of hate speech increase significantly,” he said. “We felt there is a risk our advertising would appear next to the wrong messages,” he said.
Other companies including Allianz, Audi, General Mills, GM, United Airlines and Pfizer have also, and more large advertisers are expected to follow suit.