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DA - Should We Have to Pay for Twitter Verification?

YES - Fiona Golden

As an avid Twitter user, I find Musk’s new directional approach to Twitter concerning to say the very least. While there are a plethora of valid critiques of his ownership such as the layoffs of employees and hypocrisy regarding his free speech policy, the paid subscription requirement is not necessarily a significant pitfall compared to the rest of the recent flops.

Those that subscribe to Twitter Blue can pay $8 a month to receive a checkmark next to their name as a verified user, although if you click on the mark, it’ll indicate the subscription and not because you’re notable in the world. Imagine my surprise seeing users verified in pop stars’ mentions, proclaiming “Gaga flop” or “Rosalía deserved album of the year”, blue tick and all. It begs the question - what is even the point of paying for verification? It provides no other benefits, so as such a useless mechanism, I can’t even hate it. Let me be clear: the “Hardcore Twitter 2.0” implementation is unequivocally tyrannical, but I can’t envision Blue as something that disrupts the playing field of open access. Rather, it appears as an indicator of who is gullible enough to purchase this. The saps that will shell out cash for it always will, so long as they’re under the impression that they will be the decorated acolytes of Musk’s New Twitter Order. I say let them.

The one possible consequence of this feature is the priceless commentary it has gifted us on late-stage capitalism. Fake verified accounts subscribed to Twitter Blue have already begun posing as various corporations, sardonically proclaiming an announcement of free insulin from pharmaceutical brands or fruit companies’ involvement in Latin American coups. Even a BP imposter has tearfully bemoaned that “just cause we killed the planet doesn’t mean we can’t miss it”. These pranks have been so effective in stirring up controversy that large brands have paused advertising on Twitter. With these considerations in mind, I’m inclined to view the feature as a force for good, though likely not what Elon had in mind

As for celebrities, I can’t imagine Twitter will strip deceased singers of their blue checkmark for not coming back from the dead to deposit their monthly check towards Elon. Although based on his megalomaniac tendencies, this wouldn’t be entirely out of the question. Maybe the great equalizing force in the new Twitter regime will be the distinction between the normal, unverified population of celebs and the masses alike and the verified bootlickers and losers of Musktopia. While the Boss certainly envisions himself as a Robin Hood figure of free speech justice in opening the doors of blue ticks to the general public, the real marker is just how truly pathetic one would be to take Twitter Blue seriously. Pay your $8 all you like, but it’s just a checkmark next to a display name you can’t change. To users such as Doja Cat who thrive on display name changes, perhaps the tick mark is a loss worth cutting in the name of Twitter resistance.

In the end, I can’t help but wonder if the verification experiment will be shut down, as the parodies are a dire, unintended consequence. But I would argue that in the case of Twitter, there are significantly larger fish to fry, like the suspension of accounts mocking the new shareholder or the rumors of Twitter’s imminent downfall. Perhaps the verification controversy heralded the beginning of the end, but it certainly is not the most devastating consequence to come out of Musk’s acquisition of Twitter. If the ship is really going down, why not let the schlubs go with it? Must we really deny them the right to feel more important? Twitter Blue cements nothing about identity or notability- it merely serves as an ego boost for the price of two coffees. Would you wake up feeling more empowered with a check mark? Maybe. Or maybe your comment would be boosted towards the top in Ice Spice’s mentions (who, by the way, remains an unverified queen). Whatever the case and however long Blue remains a component of the Twitterverse, it truly is a matter of where you choose to throw your money.

NO - Isabel Loubser

To be frank, Musk thinks yes, so that means I automatically disagree. Because anyone who agrees with a narcissistic billionaire has problems (they were probably never loved as a child). Not only is he so out-of-touch with the actual issues that plague social media, Musk’s proposals won’t even succeed in resolving what he identifies as problems. To try and guise this change as anything more than a money-making opportunity is idiotic. Claiming that paid-for twitter verification will level the playing field, eliminate scammers and ensure accountability sounds great in theory, but after 0.3 milliseconds of thought, it becomes clear that paid-for verification just accentuates these issues, and brings to the fore many others.

Since the introduction of the paid-for Twitter Blue scheme, a verified pharmaceutical company has tweeted “insulin is now free”, a verified ‘O.J. Simpson’ has tweeted “Ya I’m ngl I did that shit” and Pope Francis has been apparently conversing with Martin Luther and Pope John Paul I on the platform. Hilarious? Yes. Unmitigated Chaos? Also, yes. Because once taken out of this context and applied to brands who use Twitter to solve customer issues, what can be originally viewed as the funny exploitation of a loophole in the system —namely, that once you have acquired Musk’s $8-a-month blue tick, you can simply change your account handle — the situation takes on a much more sinister dimension. The Blue Tick allows scammers, impersonators and cybercriminals to appear legitimate. And their job is made so much easier precisely because a blue-tick community means that those within it become less vigilant and more trusting of those with the verified status. I mean, it’s ridiculous. To become verified, in Musk’s words “someone has to have a phone and a credit card and $8 a month”. In what world, would that work to cleanse the site of bots? It’s literally like giving criminals police badges. Hold it up, and you’re automatically trusted, your questions unquestioned and your authority accepted. For someone so clever, Musk seems to be either unable or unwilling to apply any form of logic. The only thing paid-for verification accomplishes is the legitimisation of misinformation.

And whilst paid for twitter verification might erase the exclusivity associated with the blue tick (Musk claims it will get rid of the previous ‘lords and peasants’ system), it simply creates a new divide. One based on those who can afford a Twitter Blue subscription and those who cannot. Gone are the external markers associated with the verification status. No longer does one’s contributions to a field have to be notable or their celebrity status recognizable. Now, anyone who wants to (and can afford $8 a month) can get the blue tick. Ok, I’ll admit, in some ways this does level the playing field. But, not so fast dear reader, because this creates a new problem. An open-for-all verification model quickly leads to a platform where unverified accounts are dismissed as lacking credence or legitimacy. This threatens the idea that, in some cases, anonymity is immensely important. Just because someone doesn’t want to attach their name to something, it doesn’t mean that the information is necessarily untrue or unimportant. Anonymity is an essential tool that allows individuals to speak up and speak out. It has given power to social movements during critical moments. It has allowed people to voice their opposition towards governments wracked with homophobia and misogyny. Getting rid of online pseudo-anonymity is depriving people of a space where they can criticise repressive governments and raise awareness of abuses of power without being identified and victimised. It takes away a safe space in which people can express both themselves and their concerns.

But even if we pretend, just for a minute, that this verification system wasn’t inherently flawed. Why on earth should people pay for it? You really want everyone to operate on equal footing? Why not just allow people to verify themselves for free? And maybe check their identity with a photo and an ID? I mean, that might ensure people are who they say they are and that they only own one account. Even simpler, why not just not allow people to change their handle once they’ve selected it. I’m no tech whizz, but that seems about as obvious as the answers to a sustainable development exam.

This verification question might be rather minor in comparison to the whole host of other problems our Chief Twit is facing, but it’s symbolic of the complete nonthink associated with Musk’s vision for the platform. Problem after problem and crisis and crisis has made me rather unconvinced by Musk’s statement that he thinks “it’s going to be a good world”. Paid-for verification is as useless as it is illogical — its implementation proves that we’ll sooner have Truss back in number 10 than Twitter a safe, free and honest social media platform.

Photo: Unsplash

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