Twitter is facing tough times right now, and things aren't looking up for the beleaguered site, with users giving Musk a right ticking off.

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OnlySky has previously reported on the controversial decisions of Elon Musk in his acquisition of Twitter, including the situation of the “blue checkmarks” or “blue ticks.” It appears that Musk hasn’t learned and is keen to double down on bad ideas.

Traditionally, blue checks have been an indication on Twitter that someone famous is who they claim to be. There used to be some effort by Twitter to show that they had verified the account of such prominent people, that they had “been in contact with the person or entity the account is representing and verified that it is approved.”

And then came Musk. After a controversial start (supported by equally controversial tweeting activity by Musk almost all of the time), where it seemed the “free speech absolutist” would welcome back a host of banned extremist voices, advertisers started pulling out. To try to fill the increasing financial black hole, Musk thought it would be a good idea to get people to pay for the check, initially at $19.99 per month, and then reduced to $8 per month after a backlash.

Of course, people weren’t paying for verification, they were paying for a checkmark and perhaps a couple of other perks (like longer tweets). As such, all manner of fake accounts were set up purporting to be people or companies that they really weren’t. Eli Lilly and Company’s stock fell to the tune of billions after a viral tweet from a fake account caused some problems.

To help understand his reasoning, Musk tweeted, “It’s more about treating everyone equally. There shouldn’t be a different standard for celebrities [in my opinion].” Though this has little or nothing to do with verification.

And, this last week, those people and organizations who had gained their blue checks before Musk’s time had them disappeared. This was a moderation assassination that also included gold verification badges:

A broad array of media organizations lost the gold verification badges Musk’s team had developed months earlier as an alternative to traditional brand verification, reflecting those organizations’ apparent refusal to pay for the badges that now cost $1,000 a month.

Several prominent Twitter users including LeBron James, William Shatner and Stephen King also refused to pay to keep their verification badges, prompting Musk to personally intervene. Appearing to sense the problems that might ensue if those users went unverified, Musk said Thursday he would pay out of his own pocket to ensure James, Shatner and King’s profiles continued to be verified.

This loss of “legacy verification” has caused quite the stir. One assumes that the rationale behind this move would be to get those celebrities, organizations, and people of stature to stump up and pay for their right to be recognized as who they really are. But The Independent reported that only 28 people signed up for the checkmark in the hours that followed the cull.

It’s certainly odd that Musk was desiring a level playing field when he has now given the blue badge, whether they like it or not, to people with a million followers:

Problems abound. Twitter has given the $1,000-a-month gold checkmark to the far-right organization Britain First as well as to a fake Disney account. The changes have caused a surge in Russian and Chinese propaganda. Dead celebrities have ended up with the blue checkmark and Musk has claimed they have paid for them.

The whole point—and this is vital in a post-truth age full of disinformation—was that blue checkmarks would indicate the authenticity of the tweeter. Something incredibly useful and morally important, it seems to me, has been replaced by something designed to make a few bucks on the back of some poor business decisions. As The Guardian reported:

The removal of free verification processes has also raised concerns about the risk of misinformation and impersonation of legitimate organizations and people. A plethora of false government accounts – including some posing as the US Internal Revenue Service amid tax-filing season – emerged on Thursday. Others changed their account photos and bios to impersonate prominent figures, with a fake Jeff Bezos tweeting he was dissolving Amazon and a fake John McCain tweeting that his plane had crashed (the Arizona senator died in 2018).

But it is not like Musk’s Twitter didn’t recognize this since their dry run had shown what will continue to be fundamental problems.

It takes public backlash to get Twitter to admit that things aren’t working out how they had planned. The latest news that has come out in writing this piece is that Twitter has reversed its plans for celebrity blue ticks:

Twitter has again U-turned over its verification policy, restoring the “blue tick” free of charge to celebrity users of the social network.

But the site’s decision to reinstate the “verified” status without distinguishing between paid-for and free users has led to criticism for false advertising, since the boilerplate disclaimer for those users inaccurately describes their status as being granted “because they are subscribed to Twitter Blue”.

The whole thing is an unmitigated hot mess.

And we now have official government agencies rightfully refusing to shell out taxpayers’ money for the blue check and thus open the door for all sorts of potential scams. As CNN reported in the aftermath:

After Thursday’s change removed verification from New York City’s official government account, the account tweeted Thursday evening: “This is an authentic Twitter account representing the New York City Government.”

Later, another Twitter account bearing the same profile image and a slight variation on the official account’s username replied to that tweet.

“No, you’re not,” the impostor account said. “THIS account is the only authentic Twitter account representing and run by the New York City Government.”

By Friday morning, the city’s verification had been restored with a gray check mark indicating it was a “government or multilateral organization account.” The same had occurred with Pope Francis, who had also lost his blue check mark Thursday.

And after a spat with Canadian national broadcaster CBC, Twitter removed the label “government-funded media” from their account (and NPR’s). But in a move that will only assist state-funded propaganda from, for example, Putin, Musk also removed “state-affiliated media” from the like of Russian propaganda organ RT and Xinhua in China.

Moderation is important (and Musk has had no plan for this), and verification is a form of moderation. Without it, there is an information free-for-all, and the only people who benefit are those wishing to spread disinformation.

And this should be a worry for us all.

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...

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