Twitter users awoke Friday morning to even more chaos on the platform than they had become accustomed to in recent months under CEO Elon Musk after a wide-ranging rollback of blue check marks from celebrities, journalists and government agencies.
The end of traditional verification marked the beginning of a radically different information regime on Twitter, one highlighted by almost immediate impersonations of government accounts; the removal of labels previously used to identify Chinese and Russian propaganda; and a scramble by the company to individually re-verify certain high-profile figures such as Pope Francis.
A broad array of media organizations lost the gold verification badges Musk’s team had developed months earlier as an alternative to traditional brand verification, reflecting those organizations’ apparent refusal to pay for the badges that now cost $1,000 a month.
Several prominent Twitter users including LeBron James, William Shatner and Stephen King also refused to pay to keep their verification badges, prompting Musk to personally intervene. Appearing to sense the problems that might ensue if those users went unverified, Musk said Thursday he would pay out of his own pocket to ensure James, Shatner and King’s profiles continued to be verified.
Although some of the most visible issues with the rollout could be ironed out in the coming days, the broader impact of the change has been to make it more difficult for users to determine an account’s authenticity and potential to undermine Twitter’s central role as a hub for news. Twitter verification is no longer an indicator that an account represents who it claims to represent; instead, it reflects that a user – or, apparently, the owner of Twitter – paid for Twitter Blue, the company’s subscription service.
Earlier experiments with changes to verification had led to similar chaos, prompting Twitter to postpone the rollout multiple times. Twitter continued to move forward with its paid verification strategy, however, with the hope of bolstering subscription revenue after seeing a sharp decline in its core ad sales business.
After Thursday’s change removed verification from New York City’s official government account, the account tweeted Thursday evening: “This is an authentic Twitter account representing the New York City Government.”
Later, another Twitter account bearing the same profile image and a slight variation on the official account’s username revised to that tweet.
“No, you’re not,” the impostor account said. “THIS account is the only authentic Twitter account represented and run by the New York City Government.”
By Friday morning, the city’s verification had been restored with a gray check mark indicating it was a “government or multilateral organization account.” The same had occurred with Pope Francis, who had also lost his blue check mark Thursday.
In a seemingly unrelated and coincidental change, Twitter also stripped the “government-funded media” label from accounts belonging to Canada’s CBC and NPR, the latter of which had quit Twitter over the labeling because NPR said the label misrepresented the news organization’s editorial independence from the US government.
Twitter also removed the “state-affiliated media” labels from accounts belonging to China’s Xinhua News and Russia’s RT.
According to NPR, Musk dropped all media labeling on Twitter following a suggestion from the author Walter Isaacson, who is writing a biography of Musk. Isaacson, who is verified on Twitter as a subscriber to Twitter Blue, tweeted a photo of Musk on Thursday from SpaceX’s Starship launch site. The rocket exploded in midair.