Twitter users can soon buy a blue 'just like celebrity' tick for $8 a month |  CBC News

Twitter users can soon buy a blue ‘just like celebrity’ tick for $8 a month | CBC News

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

In an update for Apple iOS devices available in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK, Twitter said users who “sign up now” can receive a blue tick next to their names “as well as celebrities, companies and the politicians that you I’m already following.”

However, Twitter employee Esther Crawford tweeted on Saturday that “the new Blue isn’t live yet – the sprint to our launch continues, but some people may see us making updates as we test and push changes in real-time.” So far, it doesn’t appear that verified accounts were losing control.

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

There is concern that anyone being able to get a blue check could lead to confusion and an increase in misinformation ahead of Tuesday’s election, but Musk tweeted on Saturday in response to a question about the risk of imposters posing as verified individuals — such as politicians and election officials. — that “Twitter suspends account for attempted impersonation and keeps money!”

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

But many worry that the sweeping layoffs that began Friday could upend restraints on moderation and content verification on the social platform that public agencies, election commissions, police departments and news stations use to keep people reliably informed.

The change marks the end of Twitter’s current verification system, which was launched in 2009 to prevent impersonation of high-profile accounts such as celebrities and politicians. Before the overhaul, Twitter had about 423,000 verified accounts, many of them rank-and-file journalists from around the world, who were verified by the company regardless of how many followers they had.

Experts expressed serious concerns about the change to the platform’s verification system, which, while not perfect, helped Twitter’s 238 million daily users determine whether the accounts they were getting information from were authentic. Current verified accounts include celebrities, athletes, influencers and other public figures, along with government agencies and politicians around the world, journalists and news outlets, activists, businesses and brands, and Musk himself.

“They know the blue check has value, and they try to use it quickly,” said Jennifer Grygiel, an associate professor of communication at Syracuse University and a social media expert. “He needs to earn people’s trust before he can sell them anything. Why would you buy a car from a dealer who you know has basically turned out to be a mess?”

People walk outside the Twitter headquarters in San Francisco on Friday. (Jeff Chiu/The Associated Press)

The update Twitter made to the iOS version of its app does not mention verification under the new “blue check” system. The update is not yet available on Android devices.

Musk, who previously said he wanted to “verify all people” on Twitter, said public figures would be identified in a way other than a blue check. Currently, for example, government officials are marked with text below their 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 “United States Government Official.”

Massive layoffs

The change comes a day after the company began laying off employees to cut costs and as more companies halt advertising on Twitter as the wary corporate world waits to see how it will fare under new ownership.

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

He said the company’s frontline content moderators were the group least affected by the job cuts, and that “efforts to election integrity — including harmful disinformation that can suppress voting and combating state-sponsored information operations — remain paramount priority”.

Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey took the blame for such widespread job losses on Saturday. He was CEO of Twitter twice, the last one spanning from 2015 to 2021.

“I am responsible for why everyone is in this situation: I increased the size of the company too quickly,” he wrote on Twitter. “Sorry about that.”

Musk tweeted late Friday that he had no choice but to cut jobs “when the company is losing over $4 million a day.” He did not give details of the day-to-day losses at the company and said that employees who lost their jobs had been offered three months’ pay as severance pay.

Content moderation questions

Musk also said Twitter has already seen a “massive decline in revenue” as advertisers face 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 the likes of General Motors, REI, General Mills and Audi.

Musk tried to reassure advertisers last week, saying Twitter would not become a “free-for-all hell” because of what he called its commitment to free speech.

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

But concerns remain that Twitter’s lighter touch on content moderation will lead to users sending out offensive tweets. This could damage companies’ brands if their ads appear next to them.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk on Saturday urged Musk to “ensure that human rights are at the center of Twitter’s governance.” In an open letter, Turk said news of the firing of the company’s entire human rights team and a large part of its AI ethics team was not an “encouraging start”.

“Like all companies, Twitter needs to understand the harms associated with its platform and take steps to remove them,” Turk said. “Respecting our shared human rights should set the bar for the use and development of the platform.”

Meanwhile, Twitter can’t simply cut costs to boost profits, and Musk needs to find ways to increase revenue, said Dan Ives, an analyst at Wedbush. But that’s easier said than done with the new Blue Check subscription program.

“Users got it for free,” Ives said. “There could be a massive push.

He expects 20 to 25 percent of verified Twitter users to sign up initially. The stakes are high for Musk and Twitter to get it done on time and to make sign-ups work smoothly, he added.

“You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression,” Ives said. “It’s been a trainwreck first week for Musk, who owns the Twitter platform. Now you’re down 50 percent [of the workforce]. There are questions about just the stability of the platform, and advertisers are watching that closely.”

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