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Twitter wants to charge for verification. Here’s what you need to know.

Nov. 2, 2022 Updated Wed., Nov. 2, 2022 at 5:49 p.m.

 (Dreamstime)
(Dreamstime)
By Heather Kelly and Gerrit De Vynck Washington Post

The first big new Twitter feature under Elon Musk could cost you.

The company wants to charge users to get verified and display the signature blue check mark next to their account name. It’s something Twitter has offered to some accounts for free in the past, with mixed success.

On Tuesday, Elon Musk tweeted confirmation that he would offer a combination of verification and the company’s paid Twitter Blue service for $8 a month. Twitter was considering charging as much as $20 a month for the privilege of having the blue check, according to a person familiar with the issue who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters. Twitter’s existing paid version, called Twitter Blue, would be combined with the verification process, and some of its existing features may be cut, according to the person.

Musk tweeted the new subscription would include the ability to have priority in replies, mentions and search results, as well as fewer ads, the ability to share longer video and audio posts, and a way to read articles behind a paywall for free.

Over the weekend, Jason Calacanis, a longtime Musk associate who has been brought in to help run Twitter, posted a poll asking how much people would be willing to pay for the honor. The vast majority voted “wouldn’t pay.” Late Monday, Elon Musk argued on Twitter with Stephen King after the outraged author said the site should pay him instead.

“We need to pay the bills somehow! Twitter cannot rely entirely on advertisers. How about $8?” replied Musk.

Whether you use Twitter or not, the change could have broader implications for everything from misinformation to elections. Here’s what you need to know.

What is verification?

Twitter verification is a small blue check mark in a bumpy circle that appears next to a username on the site or app. It indicates Twitter has confirmed an account belongs to the person or company claiming it.

Verification was first launched in 2009 as a response to complaints from celebrities. Kanye West – now known as Ye – was upset at the time that a Twitter user was pretending to be him, when he didn’t actually have an account at all. Former St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa sued the company over a page that impersonated him and made comments about drunken driving.

In the beginning, verification was only offered to “public officials, public agencies, famous artists, athletes, and other well known individuals at risk of impersonation,” Twitter co-founder Biz Stone said in a 2009 blog post. Early verified accounts included the CDC, Neil Armstrong, Kim Kardashian, Oprah and the Milwaukee police department. In 2016, Twitter opened the application process to everyone.

Who gets verified now?

The blue icon has grown into a security feature for the site and a defense against misinformation, but is also seen as some as a status symbol that is unfairly doled out. Verification requests have been open to any accounts that are notable and “authentic” for years, creating a varied class of check-marked Twitter users with small and large followings.

On its application page, Twitter says verification is “not an incentive, reward or endorsement,” a statement that could be at odds with charging for a check mark. The latest list of eligible accounts Twitter had on its site included official government accounts or officials, political candidates, news organizations and staff, brands, celebrities, activists, experts and content creators.

The company did not offer verification to parody and most fictional accounts, or accounts that violate other Twitter rules, including around spam, harassment and hate speech.

Any Twitter user has been able to request verification, though it’s unclear if those are being processed at the moment. The setting is located in Settings and Privacy / Your Account / Account Information / Verification Request. Users need to prove they qualify and confirm their identity.

Why does verification matter?

Social media sites have struggled with widespread misinformation for years. The issue has been particularly pronounced on Twitter, where breaking news is most likely to unfold in real time, and a fake news story can spread at lightning speed.

The site has also played an influential role in elections, where foreign influence campaigns, attempts to undermine election results and viral misinformation about candidates and voting can thrive. Musk has already suggested he would reverse a ban on former president Donald Trump, who used Twitter prolifically until his account was suspended permanently in 2021.

Calacanis tweeted on Monday, “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.” It’s unclear if charging for verification would lead to more blue check marks or fewer, and if existing verifications would be revoked.

How would paid verification likely work?

Twitter already has a paid tier called Twitter Blue, where users pay $4.99 a month to have access to ad-free articles from some news publishers, a special tab showing what links are most popular on the platform, and the ability to change the color of their app icon.

The paid verification system would become part of Twitter Blue, and the price would be increased, according to the person familiar with the discussions around the system. The new Twitter Blue service would cost $8 a month, according to a Musk tweet, and include priority in replies, mentions and search results, as well as fewer ads, the ability to share longer video and audio posts, and a possible way to see paywalled articles for free.

If you don’t already have a Twitter Blue account, that would mean having to begin paying, which is usually done through the Apple or Google app stores.

What are the possible consequences of paid verification?

It’s not immediately clear how paid verification would change Twitter, but if adoption is low, it could lead to an increase in misinformation or impersonations on the site.

Twitter would essentially be doing the opposite of what other social networks are doing ahead of the midterm elections. For example, TikTok made it a rule that politicians need to be verified to avoid impersonation. In a tweet on Tuesday, Musk said revenue from the new Twitter Blue could go toward a fund to “reward” creators, though it would need to pay creators at least $8 a month for them to break even.

It could also lead to an exodus of more big-name Twitter posters, perhaps to find better, more lucrative social media homes elsewhere. Without its stars, Twitter could see a drop in regular users as well.

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