On the same day Elon Musk watched his SpaceX Starship explode just minutes after a historic launch, he could still claim one triumph: he has maybe, apparently, finally succeeded in removing the unpaid “legacy” blue checks on verified Twitter accounts.
Musk began criticizing Twitter’s verification system — launched in 2009 after celebrities complained of unauthorized impersonator accounts — last November, shortly after taking control of the company in a $44 billion deal. As he attempted to sell users on the premium experience of Twitter Blue, which gives anyone a blue check for $8 a month, he repeatedly claimed that the system under which the original checks were assigned was “corrupt,” saying that Twitter would remove them in the months ahead.
After a sunset date of April 1 came and went without noticeable changes to the app, Musk announced that the unpaid checks would actually disappear on April 20. The rescheduling was met with understandable skepticism, even though Twitter had already implemented gold and gray check marks to denote official businesses and government accounts, because deleting the old blue badges was a finicky manual process that could not be reliably performed at bulk scale.
Indeed, as they started to vanish on Thursday, users reported all manner of strange glitches. Some checks flickered on and off, while others briefly reverted to displaying the pre-Twitter Blue caption explaining that the account is “notable in government, news, entertainment, or another designated category.” (Musk had tweaked this to say that users with legacy blue checks “may or may not be notable,” and later, the legacy badges became indistinguishable from paid ones.)
In an instant, however, mega-celebrities and public figures with millions of followers — from Kim Kardashian to Pope Francis — lost their badges. So did countless journalists, who were traditionally verified through their workplaces so that readers could trust their Twitter feeds as legitimate news sources. Musk has at times seemed particularly motivated to purge the media’s blue checks, and made a pointed example of the New York Times by revoking the company’s icon in early April when they indicated that they would not pay for it.
At the same time, users can once again tell who’s presumably paying for Twitter — which has led to extensive shaming in the past. It’s not clear, however, if some of the celebrities now listed as Twitter Blue subscribers (including Britney Spears, Cardi B, and Rihanna) have retained complimentary checks. Some who have publicly expressed unwillingness to pay for Twitter, like author Stephen King, currently appear to have a paid blue check.
Of course, there’s no doubt that the half of all Twitter Blue subscribers with under 1,000 followers — among them plenty of annoying self-promoters and trolls — are ponying up the monthly fee for the check and other perks. They may be getting promoted by the algorithm, but they’re likely to face renewed mockery.
All in all, the blue check rapture has accomplished what most of Musk’s initiatives at Twitter have to date: mass confusion and the acceleration of the site’s looming collapse. Can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.