Twitter has removed labels describing global media organizations as state-funded or affiliated with the state, a move that comes after Elon Musk’s platform began removing blue verification ticks from accounts that don’t pay a monthly fee.
Among those untagged was National Public Radio in the US, which announced last week that it would stop using Twitter after its main account was classified as state-affiliated media, a term also used to mean Identify media controlled or heavily influenced by authoritarian governments. like Russia and China.
Twitter later changed the label to “government-funded media,” but NPR — which relies on the government for a tiny fraction of its funding — said it was still misleading.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. and Swedish Public Radio made similar decisions to stop tweeting. CBC’s state-funded label disappeared Friday along with state-affiliated tags on media accounts including Sputnik and RT in Russia and Xinhua in China.
Many of Twitter’s high profile users Thursday lost the blue ticks that helped verify their identities and distinguish them from scammers.
Twitter had about 300,000 verified users under the original blue check system – many of them journalists, athletes and public figures. The checks used to mean that the account was verified by Twitter as who it claims to be.
Among the high-profile users who lost their blue checks Thursday were Beyoncé, Pope Francis, Oprah Winfrey and former President Donald Trump.
The cost of keeping the markers ranges from $8 per month for individual web users to a starting price of $1,000 per month for an organization’s verification, plus $50 per month for each partner or employee account. Twitter does not verify individual accounts, as was the case with the previous blue check distributed during the platform’s pre-Musk administration.
Celebrity users, from basketball star LeBron James to Star Trek author Stephen King and William Shatner, have declined to join – although all three had blue ticks on Thursday indicating the account was paid for verification.
King, for example, said he didn’t pay.
“My Twitter account says I’m subscribed to Twitter Blue. I did not. My Twitter account says I provided a phone number. I haven’t,” King tweeted Thursday. “Just so you know.”
In a response to King’s tweet, Musk said, “You’re welcome, namaste,” and in another tweet, he said he was “personally paying for a few.” He later tweeted that he was only paying for King, Shatner and James.
Singer Dionne Warwick tweeted earlier in the week that the site’s verification system was “an absolute mess.”
“The way Twitter works, anyone could be me now,” Warwick said. She previously vowed not to pay for Twitter Blue, saying the monthly fee “could (and will) go towards my extra hot lattes.”
On Thursday, Warwick lost her blue tick (which is actually a white tick on a blue background).
For users who still had a blue tick as of Thursday, a pop-up message indicated that the account is “verified because they subscribed to Twitter Blue and verified their phone number.” Verifying a phone number simply means that the person has a phone number and they have confirmed that they have access to it – it does not verify the person’s identity.
Not only celebrities and journalists lost their blue checks on Thursday. Many government agencies, nonprofits, and public service accounts around the world have become unverified, raising concerns that Twitter could lose its status as a platform for retrieving accurate, timely information from authentic sources, including in emergencies.
While Twitter offers gold checks for “verified organizations” and gray checks for government organizations and their affiliates, it’s not clear how the platform distributes these.
The official New York government Twitter account, which previously had a blue tick, tweeted Thursday, “This is an authentic Twitter account representing the New York government. This is the only account for @NYCGov operated by the New York government.” in an attempt to clear up confusion.
A newly created spoof account with 36 followers (also without a blue tick) disagreed: “No, you’re not. THIS account is the only authentic Twitter account representing and operated by the New York City government.”
Another fake report soon chimed in, claiming to be Pope Francis: “By the authority conferred on me, Pope Francis, I declare @NYC_GOVERNMENT the official government of New York City. Peace be with you.”
According to an analysis by Travis Brown, a Berlin-based developer of social media tracking software, less than 5% of legacy verified accounts appear to have paid to join Twitter Blue as of Thursday.
Musk’s move angered some high-profile users and delighted some right-wing figures and Musk fans who felt the grades were unfair. But it’s not an obvious moneymaker for the social media platform, which has long relied on advertising for most of its revenue.
Digital intelligence platform Similarweb analyzed how many people signed up for Twitter Blue on their desktop computers and found only 116,000 confirmed signups in the last month, which at $8 or $11 a month isn’t a huge revenue stream. The analysis did not count accounts purchased through mobile apps.
After Musk bought San Francisco-based Twitter for $44 billion in October, he sought to boost the ailing platform’s revenue by enticing more people to pay for a premium subscription. But his move also reflects his claim that the blue verification marks have become an undeserved or “corrupt” status symbol for elite figures, news reporters and others who were granted verification of Twitter’s past leadership free of charge.
Twitter started marking profiles with a blue tick about 14 years ago. Aside from protecting celebrities from impersonators, one of the main reasons was to provide an additional tool to curb misinformation coming from accounts impersonating people. Most “old blue cheques”, including the accounts of politicians, activists and people who suddenly find themselves in the news, as well as little-known journalists at small publications around the world, are not household names.
One of Musk’s first product moves after acquiring Twitter was to launch a service that would grant blue checks to anyone willing to pay $8 a month. But it was quickly inundated with fraudulent accounts, including those posing as Nintendo, pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, and Musk’s companies Tesla and SpaceX, prompting Twitter to temporarily halt the service days after it launched.
The newly launched service costs $8 per month for web users and $11 per month for users of its iPhone or Android apps. Subscribers should see fewer ads, be able to post longer videos and have their tweets appear more prominently.
AP Technology Writer Matt O’Brien contributed to this report.