Elon Musk just blew up Twitter verification and will destroy Twitter in the process

Elon Musk and Twitter
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Twitter's verification process has been a point of contention for as long as there have been Blue Badges. Grumblings about the selection process and haves and have nots have persisted. It was probably a broken system but now, thanks to Twitter's new owner CEO Elon Musk, it's about to be laid to waste.

Twitter on the whole may be next.

For as much as Musk uses and purports to love Twitter, he still doesn't understand the engine that drives it. It is, for better or worse, all those Blue Checks. Those are the Twitter members who probably account for much of the best content on Twitter, the liveliest discussions, the funniest posts, and the deepest, long thread dives.

That's not how Musk sees it though. In a series of Tweets on Monday, he laid out a new plan for, it seems, both verification and Twitter's three-month-old Twitter Blue $4.99-a-month subscription service. He started with:

"Twitter’s current lords & peasants system for who has or doesn’t have a blue checkmark is bullshit. Power to the people! Blue for $8/month."

Okay, I kind of get this. Those without Twitter's almost iconic blue verification check mark have long asked how they can get one. And thanks to Twitter's black-box selection system, no one could really answer the question. I mean, they did have a lengthy answer back when I first got verified in 2012:

"Twitter proactively verifies accounts on an ongoing basis to make it easier for users to find who they’re looking for. We concentrate on highly sought users in music, acting, fashion, government, politics, religion, journalism, media, advertising, business, and other key interest areas. We verify business partners from time to time and individuals at high risk of impersonation.

We do not accept requests for verification from the general public. If you fall under one of the above categories and your Twitter account meets our qualifications for verification, we may reach out to you in the future."

In other words, the umbrella was big, so big in fact, that there wasn't much of a vetting system. Years ago actor, author, and prolific tweeter William Shatner expressed his annoyance to me that so many social media managers were getting verified. I got it. They weren't celebrities or public figures like him, but they might've been considered journalists.

Things got so messy that, for a time, Twitter admitted the system was broken and then a few years later paused verification and created a stasis that further frustrated those who could not get that previous blue check.

Eventually, Twitter brought verification back but I could never say that everyone was pleased with the selection process or even knew what a Blue Check means, which is to say that Musk's clearly stated annoyance is not unfounded. His solution, however, is confusing and potentially very bad for people with Blue Checks and for Twitter.

As outlined in a series of tweets, because that's how all of Musk's Twitter decisions are being made these days, this is the plan:

  • Twitter Blue will now cost $8 a month
  • Price adjusted by country proportionate to purchasing power parity
  • New Twitter Blue features include:
  • Priority in replies, mentions & search
  • Ability to post long video & audio
  • Half as many ads
  • Paywall bypass for publishers willing to work with Twitter
  • Public figures will still have some sort of tag similar to the ones used for politicians

I mostly left Musk's original language intact and have no idea what he means by adjusting the price based on country and purchasing power. 

That, though, is just a tiny slice of what's unclear here. Questions abound, like, is the clock actually ticking on Blue Checks? What I mean is, if you don't pay, your Twitter Blue Check, my verification, will disappear. I think that's the case but have asked Musk on Twitter for clarification.

Musk offered no detail about the timeline for these changes. He didn't mention if this is happening tomorrow, next week, or next year. What about a grace period? How will Twitter be informing us of the change? Will there be any exceptions?

As written, this feels like extortion. Something that Twitter willingly gave us is being taken away unless we pay a monthly fee. And for what? To fill Musk's platform with content? Something we've been doing for 16 years?

Why is it we have to pay, and the advertisers have to pay, but Twitter, which is not creating any of this content is not paying any of us?

Before Musk proposed his scorched earth verification policy, I made what I believe is a more reasonable suggestion.

I think most of us can agree that we find some value in Twitter and in the profile the Blue Check provides and that, yes, we might be willing to pay a small fee for the right to keep it.

I think $10 a year fee just to keep the check (while meeting the criteria used to originally ascertain that you deserved the check) is fair and does not even need to include the ability to edit tweets (the only Twitter Blue feature I care about). For people who want editable tweets, and some of the other features Musk mentions above, charge them $19.99 a year.

Musk wants to use his plan to generate real revenue for Twitter. I thought that's what advertisers were for but, fine, if Musk insists that this is the only way to create a new revenue stream, then charge brands like Frito-Lay and Taco Bell a premium - I bet many would gladly pay it.

As it stands, though, Musk's current plan is clear as mud (even Twitter Comms hasn't answered any of my questions) and if implemented as written, it will destroy Twitter.

Most verified accounts are not going to pay $8 a month for a platform that offers no original content. I know, the platform is filled with content, but Twitter produces none of it. At least when I pay $19.99 a month for Netflix or $14.99 a month for HBO Max, I get original and exclusive content every month, sometimes a lot of it.

If you think the end of the Blue Check is a good thing, imagine what Twitter will be like when they're mostly gone. We'll have tons of unverified impersonator accounts and an even less trustworthy platform. Twitter will devolve into true chaos and then eventually be done.

Does Musk even understand what Twitter is? Maybe he does and is happy to burn it all to the ground so he can build something new.

I wish him luck, but this feels like the end of Twitter.

Lance Ulanoff
Editor At Large

A 38-year industry veteran and award-winning journalist, Lance has covered technology since PCs were the size of suitcases and “on line” meant “waiting.” He’s a former Lifewire Editor-in-Chief, Mashable Editor-in-Chief, and, before that, Editor in Chief of PCMag.com and Senior Vice President of Content for Ziff Davis, Inc. He also wrote a popular, weekly tech column for Medium called The Upgrade.

Lance Ulanoff makes frequent appearances on national, international, and local news programs including Live with Kelly and Ryan, the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNBC, CNN, and the BBC.