Following announcements that Twitter under Musk will generate revenue by blue tick subscriptions, we look at what this means and at the blue tick chaos that followed the announcement.

What Is This ‘Blue Tick’?

Twitter’s paid-for Blue service, launched last year, is a subscription service – $7.99 (£6.99) per month in the US, also available in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and now in the UK since 10th November. Primarily, the Blue service is a way for users to verify (by use of a blue tick next to their name) that their account is genuine. The Blue service also gives subscribers other editing and customisation options that free accounts don’t have. 

Why Blue Tick? Why The Need To Signal That An Account Is Genuine?

Back in 2021, the service was introduced following reports that perhaps as much as 19 per cent of Twitter accounts could be fake and untrustworthy. This problem appears to have persisted.  

Back in June, for example, When Elon Musk was in the process of trying to buy (i.e. a takeover of) Twitter, he threatened to pull out of the sale over the amount of spam and fake accounts / bot accounts (not run by humans) which Twitter said made up 5 per cent of Twitter accounts. 

These fake / bot accounts, and parody accounts are a problem, not just from Twitter’s (and Musk’s personal) point of view in that they affect the platform’s quality and could reduce value for money for advertisers but mainly because, from the user’s point of view, they are used to (for example) send adverts or scams to users, influence public debate by tweeting political propaganda, and generally spread disinformation. 

What Should The Blue Service (Blue Tick) Provide?

Subscribers to Twitter’s Blue service should receive: 

  • The verifying tick next to the name in the user’s profile. 
  • The ability to edit their tweets, e.g. to correct typos or clarify meanings, up to five times within the first 30 minutes of tweeting. However, the tweet shows that it’s been edited and shows users the previous versions. 
  • An ‘undo’ function which gives a short “cooling-off” period before a tweet goes live. This could, for example, be used to tag more people. 
  • The ability to change the colour of the app icon, change the general colour theme, and change the text size. 
  • The ability to upload longer (up to 10 minutes) and better-quality videos (1080p HD quality). 
  • The ability to use NFTs (non-fungible tokens) as profile photos, e.g. a piece of digital art they’ve purchased. 
  • Top Articles and priority ranking for subscribers. Users can use this section to see what which articles are creating a buzz. 

Other points of interest about the blue tick system are: 

  • Whereas the old blue checkmark (prior to Musk taking over) indicated active, notable, and authentic accounts of public interest that had been independently verified by Twitter based on certain requirements, the new post-Musk blue checkmark could mean: 
  • Either that an account was verified under the previous verification criteria, or that the account has an active subscription to Twitter Blue. 
  • Accounts verified under the old system can keep their own blue badges. 

There is also news that features coming soon to the Blue service will include fewer adverts, priority ranking in search, and mentions and replies for “quality content” posted by subscribers. 

Backdrop Leading To Blue Service Chaos

Elon Musk’s Blue service introduction, however, has been born out of great change and turmoil for the social media platform which has led to a chaotic week for blue tick. Some of the turbulent backdrop which has fuelled the chaos includes:

  • Musk’s $44 billion takeover leading to mass job cuts – Twitter cutting roughly 50 per cent of its workforce. 
  • Twitter top executives reportedly being sacked, i.e. Chief Executive Parag Agrawal, Chief Financial Officer Ned Segal and legal affairs and policy chief Vijaya Gadd. 
  • Fears that Twitter could change for the worse under Musk’s ownership, i.e. reinstating unpopular banned users and controversial figures and allowing the wrong kind of ‘free speech’. Also, the dropping of thousands of (outsourced) content moderators have led to fears of a drop in quality and possible rise of misinformation. 
  • Elon Musk warning that Twitter could face bankruptcy unless more (non-advertising) revenue could be generated, e.g. by the Blue service.  
  • Elon Musk announcing that all but “exceptional” Twitter employees need to come back to working in the office for at least 40 hours per week or their resignation will be accepted. 
  • Reports that Twitter users are leaving the platform in protest over Musk’s ownership and moving to competing, and decentralised social network ‘Mastodon.’ 
  • America’s Federal Trade Commission warning that “no chief executive or company is above the law”, fears over Twitter’s approach to security, and questions about this in relation to possible Saudi involvement in the Twitter takeover. 

Blue Chaos

It is against this backdrop that the introduction of the Blue service, a way to generate revenue at a time of falling ad sales, appeared to be in chaos as the following, and more, happened: 

  • A wave of blue tick verified (but fake) accounts impersonating influential brands and celebrities tweeting fake news plus having to be suspended and removed. Fake/parody accounts included those for Apple, Nintendo, BP, Chiquita, Mark Zuckerberg, President Joe Biden, Donald Trump, George W Bush, Tony Blair and, almost inevitably, fake Elon Musk and Tesla accounts. 
  • Reports that US far-right activists have been able to purchase Twitter blue ticks, and of accounts purchasing blue ticks using AI generated images of fake personalities. 
  • Confusion over the introduction of new grey “official” badges instead of blue ticks on some high-profile accounts, which were then suddenly scrapped by Elon Musk, only to be re-instated on some Twitter profiles. 
  • Some US users reporting that the Twitter Blue subscription system was no longer available to them. 
  • Elon Musk announcing that parody accounts would need to include parody in their name going forward. 

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The takeover, the speed and apparently drastic nature of the job cuts (mass layoffs by email) and other changes and concerns about what Twitter could now become under the ownership of the controversial Elon Musk have created a turbulent environment in which to try and quickly introduce a new and apparently flawed blue tick service.

Falling ad revenues were the main reason for the introduction of the blue tick service as a much-needed extra source of revenue. However, an air of chaos and parody and fake accounts may have seriously dented confidence in blue tick, and it appears that a general unease about what Twitter will be under Musk may account for many users apparently switching to Mastodon. Given that Tesla’s fate may also be linked to the fate of Twitter, despite Musk optimistically tweeting that “Usage of Twitter continues to rise. One thing is for sure: it isn’t boring!”, chaos, turbulence, uncertainty, and security fears are not attractive to businesses (and advertisers), and news of brutal mass layoffs by email ordering people back to the office and acting too much like a billionaire are not attractive to many social media users.

Also, there is a fear that Twitter could now be much more easily exploited by bad actors to spread disruptive disinformation and other malicious activities. Events are still happening thick and fast at Twitter but for the time being, confidence in blue tick appears to have been seriously dented.

By Mike Knight

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