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Musk mulls Twitter verification charge, barters with Stephen King on fee

Nov. 1, 2022 Updated Tue., Nov. 1, 2022 at 8:42 p.m.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk looks up as he addresses guests at the Offshore Northern Seas 2022 meeting in Stavanger, Norway, on Aug. 29.  (Tribune News Service)
Tesla CEO Elon Musk looks up as he addresses guests at the Offshore Northern Seas 2022 meeting in Stavanger, Norway, on Aug. 29. (Tribune News Service)
By Adela Suliman Washington Post

Twitter’s new owner and CEO, Elon Musk, appeared to confirm reports that the platform is considering charging people $20 to maintain the coveted blue check mark of verification on their account in an exchange with horror author Stephen King.

King pushed back on those reports, tweeting to his almost 7 million followers on Monday: “They should pay me. If that gets instituted, I’m gone like Enron,” he said, alluding to the energy company that collapsed in scandal and filed for bankruptcy.

In response, Musk suggested that charging for verification would help the site to make a profit and appeared to barter with King, tweeting: “We need to pay the bills somehow! Twitter cannot rely entirely on advertisers. How about $8?”

“I will explain the rationale in longer form before this is implemented. It is the only way to defeat the bots & trolls,” Musk added. King did not reply.

The billionaire Tesla and SpaceX owner completed his purchase of Twitter for $44 billion last week after several months of negotiations and legal wrangling.

In the run-up to his Twitter acquisition, Musk made the issue of fake Twitter accounts run by “bots” a point of major contention as he demanded more internal data from the company to evaluate the number of fake users on the site.

He has since said that the “whole verification process is being revamped” without sharing more details, though he has yet to confirm whether any payment will be requested for verification.

The blue verification badge signifies that an account is “authentic, notable, and active,” according to Twitter, and is generally held by public figures in government, news and entertainment, among other limited fields.

Tech investor and longtime Musk associate Jason Calacanis, who since Musk’s acquisition has appeared in Twitter’s company directory, also solicited interest in various payment amounts for a blue check on Monday, administering a poll of prices ranging from $5 to $15 a month. While the poll remains open, an overwhelming 82 percent of respondents have so far indicated they wouldn’t pay. Musk responded to Calcanis’ poll, saying: “Interesting.”

Echoing Musk’s rationale, Calacanis tweeted that “having many more people verified on Twitter, while removing the bot armies, is the quickest path to making the platform safer & more usable for everyone.”

Taking over Twitter – akin to an online public square for debate and dialogue across the political spectrum – may be pushing Musk to show signs of acknowledging the demands and responsibilities of owning the social platform. Late Monday, Musk changed his Twitter bio from “Chief Twit” to “Twitter Complaint Hotline Operator.”

Musk formally took over as Twitter CEO after several of Twitter’s longtime executives, including former CEO Parag Agrawal, were dismissed following his purchase of the San Francisco-based company.

Over the weekend, The Washington Post reported that members of Musk’s inner circle, alongside Twitter’s remaining senior executives, conducted detailed discussions about the site’s approach to content moderation and spam as well as plans for a first round of layoffs for some 25 percent of the workforce.

A financial filing on Monday also showed that Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey rolled over his Twitter shares into the company, making him one of Musk’s investors.

Since taking over the platform, Musk has also said that he has plans to form a “content moderation council” of experts with “widely diverse viewpoints.” He added that no major content decisions or account reinstatements would happen before that council convenes.

It comes amid speculation over whether Musk will readmit former president Donald Trump, a prolific tweeter, back on to the site. Trump was banned after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, with Twitter citing the “risk of further incitement of violence.” The rebuke also meant Trump’s tweets mostly disappeared from the site, removing the catalogue of his thoughts.

“If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me if Trump is coming back on this platform, Twitter would be minting money!” Musk tweeted this week.

Meanwhile, Trump told Fox News last week that for now he prefers his own platform, Truth Social, for his public messaging.

“I don’t think Twitter can be successful without me,” Trump said. “I am staying on Truth. I like it better, I like the way it works, I like Elon, but I’m staying on Truth,” he added.

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