What a week it has been
This past week has seen Elon Musk dominating the headlines, and the firehose will not be letting up any time soon. There has been some great reporting coming out and I wanted to round up a few things that stood out to me.
Shifting to a pay-to-play model undermines the original point of verification. In 2009, Twitter launched its blue checks in response to a lawsuit from St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, as a way to demonstrate it was committed to controlling impersonation attempts. (La Russa was peeved that somebody was pretending to be him and cracking jokes at his expense.)
Verification was a way to keep prominent people and organizations, from celebrities to politicians to multinational corporations and government agencies, comfortable on the platform. Early verified accounts include the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kim Kardashian. The media has always loved verification. For journalists trying to get sources to talk or audience development teams trying to get eyes on a story, it makes sense to want a verified account; it made you look like a person somebody had vetted. Blue checks also assured a journalist’s followers that the story they shared was a real article from the paper and not a hoax.
The blue check system wasn’t a cure-all for fraud, lies, and other misinformation—Twitter’s long history of content moderation problems is well documented, plus it made a number of missteps deciding who and why to verify over the years—but verification did help the platform operate as a “town square” for sharing information. There’s a reason why every other major social platform, including Facebook and TikTok, cribbed the blue badges for their own networks.
Katie Notopoulos, reporting for BuzzFeed making some good points as to why the idea of paying for Twitter is not itself an asinine idea:
These extra features are modest, for now. Maybe if the features were a little more robust, $8 would feel more worth it. Look, I know admitting you love Twitter isn’t “cool,” and the idea of actually paying for it seems even dorkier. But let’s be honest with ourselves about how glued to this app we actually are.
I should disclose here that I am a craven sicko who currently pays for Twitter Blue. And you know what? I’m happy to. I’m not going to sit here and pretend I hate “the hellsite.” I’m a messy little pisspig for Twitter; I use it every day and mostly enjoy it, and I’m happy to pay a modest fee for some extra features.
Plenty of people — almost certainly including you — currently pay for all sorts of subscriptions and services. I pay for Netflix and iCloud storage space. I pay for the ad-free versions of Spotify and a shitty mobile Solitaire game. I pay for Hulu, but not ad-free. I pay to get extra Patreon-only episodes of my favorite podcast. Once, in the 2000s, I paid $10 to access Something Awful forums. Lots of people pay for video game streaming or Adobe Illustrator or weird porn or monkey NFTs.
Getting people to pay for a premium web service isn’t reinventing the wheel! And creating more revenue by convincing more people to pay for Twitter Blue isn’t exactly a 6D chess business strategy.
…and finally, Katherine Rampell, reporting for The Washington Post on the topic of advertisers fearful of “free speech” turning into a chaotic mess:
Advertisers, Twitter’s primary revenue source, are nervous about these developments, and what the platform might look like in the Musk era. Adidas may not want its logo appearing alongside, say, antisemitic tweets. (If you don’t believe me, ask Kanye West, now known as Ye.) Family-friendly brands are probably not excited about appearing next to porn, either.
IPG and Havas Media, both multinational advertising companies, have advised clients to pause spending on Twitter for the time being, and a consulting firm owned by IPG reports that most clients surveyed plan to take the recommendation.
Some consumer brands have already done so, including General Motors (a Tesla competitor). The Financial Times, citing inside sources, reported Wednesday that L’Oréal had also suspended its advertising spending on the platform; the company subsequently released a statement saying it had not made “any decision” about Twitter ads.
But one can understand why the global cosmetics and hair-care giant might feel conflicted about the issue: Skinheads probably don’t buy much shampoo, but they might be in the market for new sunscreen.
Musk’s initial response to advertisers’ concerns was to assure brands that Twitter won’t devolve into a “free-for-all hellscape” (too late, methinks). When that strategy didn’t work, he tried to cyberbully them into sticking around. In a Twitter poll posted Wednesday, he asked his followers whether advertisers should support “freedom of speech” or “political ‘correctness.’”
That is unless blue checks would still require vetting by Twitter before being granted and the paywall is simply a way to minimize the number of people applying for the status. ⤴