Cybersecurity

Musk’s plan to charge for Twitter verification sparks credibility concerns

Elon Musk’s plan to charge users to be verified on Twitter has triggered concerns that the change could undermine credibility on the platform as legitimate users potentially decide to opt out from the subscription service and lose their blue checkmarks.

Experts said verified users potentially losing those markers simply because they do not wish to pay for the service could make it harder to confirm whose accounts are legitimate and whose aren’t.

“The checkmark was really established to provide verification for the sake of the credibility of the platform,” said Karen North, a clinical professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

North said she can foresee situations where legitimate users who are unwilling to pay are competing with fake accounts impersonating them to try to prove their authenticity to the public.  

“It undermines the primary purpose of the platform if users, especially people like journalists, have trouble figuring out who’s a legitimate source,” she said.

“The verification that you see allows you to judge the credibility of the sources,” she added. 

Musk, who took over Twitter last week, said he is planning to charge users $8 per month to be verified and access other premium features through the company’s Twitter Blue subscription service. 

The subscription fee was reportedly set at $20 per month initially, but Musk appeared to decrease the price after his purported plan sparked backlash from users, including prominent figures like author Stephen King and actress Lynda Carter.

“$20 a month to keep my blue check? F— that, they should pay me. If that gets instituted, I’m gone like Enron,” King tweeted on Monday

Musk was quick to defend his plan, tweeting that bills need to be paid and that the platform cannot entirely depend on advertisers.

Jennifer Grygiel, an associate professor at Syracuse University Newhouse School of Public Communications, said that although they understand Musk is trying to raise revenue for the platform and monetize the value of the blue checkmark, it’s unclear whether the plan will have a positive impact on Twitter’s users.

They noted that while they don’t believe every user should have to be authenticated, in order to ensure rights associated with anonymous speech, public figures who are have brought value to Twitter.

“It’s crucial, so why would you want to remove that checkmark,” Grygiel said, adding that Musk is “asking a lot from them to have to pay” to be verified. 

North said she was surprised that Musk, who has been vocal about fixing Twitter’s fake and spam account issue, is now putting legitimate users in a situation where they would have to pay to be verified or else lose that visible marker of their legitimacy.

“It seems to me that it’s Elon Musk working against Elon Musk’s own goal,” she said.               

She foresees an exodus from the platform, especially by prominent figures, but said she doesn’t know how extensive it will be.

She noted some users are planning to leave Twitter because they are unsure of how Musk plans to lead the site. She also said some people equate the new owner with allowing hate speech on the platform.

Critics have warned for months that Musk’s stated plans to loosen content moderation on Twitter to promote his vision of “free speech” could increase the spread of misinformation and hate speech. After he officially took ownership of the company last week, The Washington Post reported that racist and antisemitic tweets began to spread rapidly on the platform.

Several celebrities said they were planning on leaving Twitter following Musk’s takeover.

Television producer Shonda Rhimes, for instance, publicly bid goodbye to the platform, though her account still appears to be active. 

“Not hanging around for whatever Elon has planned. Bye,” Rhymes tweeted on Saturday.

Singer Toni Braxton said she was “shocked and appalled at some of the ‘free speech’” she’s encountered on Twitter since Musk’s acquisition.

“Hate speech under the veil of ‘free speech’ is unacceptable,” Braxton tweeted, adding that she would stay off the platform as it is “no longer a safe space” for herself, her sons and other people of color.

As far as misinformation goes, Grygiel said that ascertaining the trustworthiness of an individual or official institution goes beyond whether their account is verified on Twitter. They explained that there have been many instances in which public officials and other influential figures have spread misinformation and disinformation on the platform. 

Grygiel said these figures should still be scrutinized and fact-checked by journalists, and what they say should not be taken at face value just because they are verified. 

“Verification involves a lot more than proving that you aren’t a bot or that your account matches your government ID,” Grygiel said. 

“Verification involves context and continual fact-checking, and that process rests with journalists, not Musk,” they added. 

However, North disagreed with that viewpoint, saying that the issue is not whether what a verified individual said was accurate, but rather whether the person indeed said it. 

“The most important part of verification is, did that person say it or did somebody pretending to be that person say it?” North said. 

“The value of the checkmark isn’t vetting what they say, it’s vetting who they are,” she added. 

Updated at 4:51 p.m.

Tags Elon Musk Twitter Twitter verification
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