Many popular but unpaid accounts have their checks restored against their will — or even if they’re dead
What do Twitter’s blue check marks signify? After this weekend, it’s increasingly difficult to figure out.
On Thursday, Elon Musk’s Twitter finally carried out its plan to remove blue verification check marks from accounts that were not paying $8 a month for the Twitter Blue subscription service, which Musk is counting on to become a key revenue source.
The vast majority of verified accounts did not pay up — including politicians including President Joe Biden and Donald Trump, celebrities, sports figures and journalists — and had their checks revoked. But Saturday, a number of prominent Twitter users suddenly found their checks restored — even though many stressed that they were not paying for the subscription service. In some cases they appeared almost to punish or embarrass those who have been Twitter Blue’s most outspoken critics.
“This account is verified because they are subscribed to Twitter Blue and verified their phone number,” a message on the affected accounts said, though many of those affected said neither was true.
There was widespread speculation that all accounts with more then 1 million followers had their check marks restored — whether they wanted them or not. And many were vocal that they did not.
The revived check marks even applied to accounts of dead people, including Kobe Bryant, Anthony Bourdain, Chadwick Boseman and Jamal Khashoggi, a development many found distasteful.
Some online complained that the latest move was unethical at best, illegal at worst, since federal law prohibits false endorsements of a product. Musk has repeatedly flaunted federal regulations in the past, and it was unclear if he would take any additional action regarding the check marks.
Per Musk’s new media policy, Twitter replied with a poop emoji when emailed by MarketWatch on Sunday to explain the situation.
Some people who wanted to get rid of their unpaid check marks found they could hide it by changing their screen name, then changing it back again.
One prominent Twitter account, though — Dril, a massively popular comedy account who was also a leader of the #BlockTheBlue movement to block Twitter Blue subscribers — had his unwanted check mark restored multiple times Saturday in an apparent real-time, tit-for-tat battle with Twitter as he kept trying to disable it, all the while trash-talking the social network.
“Its ok he fired the people in charge of telling him its illegal,” Dril posted at one point.
As of Sunday afternoon, his check mark was finally gone.
Last week, Musk said he was personally paying for Twitter Blue accounts to prominent critics Stephen King, LeBron James and William Shatner. Many prominent users who lost their check marks were assailed by Musk fans on Twitter, accusing them of being elitist.
Musk even joined the trolling Saturday, posting a photo of a crying child after Nobel-winning economist Paul Krugman complained about the reappearance of his blue check mark.
While the blue check marks originally signified the account-holder’s identity had been verified, in an effort to reduce misinformation and fake accounts, Musk’s changes made them available to anyone willing to pay — in essence rendering them meaningless. And Saturday’s actions appeared to devalue the check marks even further.
On Friday, Twitter also stopped labeling media organizations as “government -funded” or “state-affiliated,” including NPR and the CBC, which both paused their Twitter usage in protest of that inaccurate label. Friday’s move also resulted in actual state-sponsored media from Russia and China losing those labels, leading to speculation that that had been Musk’s goal in the first place.