Twitter launches $8 monthly subscription with blue check as Elon Musk overhauls verification system ahead of elections

SAN FRANCISCO– Twitter on Saturday launched a $7.99-a-month subscription service that includes a blue check that will now be given to verified accounts as new owner Elon Musk overhauls the platform’s verification system ahead of the US midterm elections.

In an update for Apple iOS devices, Twitter said users who “sign up now” can get the blue tick next to their name, “just like the celebrities, businesses, and politicians you already follow.” So far, verified accounts don’t seem to lose their checks.

Anyone able to get the blue check could lead to confusion and mounting disinformation ahead of Tuesday’s election as would-be scammers pay for the subscription and use the names of politicians and election officials. Alongside the widespread layoffs that began Friday, many fear the social platform that public agencies, electoral boards, police departments and news outlets use to reliably inform people could become lawless if moderation and content review are removed.

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The change marks the end of Twitter’s current verification system, which was introduced in 2009 to prevent impersonation of high-profile accounts such as celebrities and politicians. Before the overhaul, Twitter had about 423,000 verified accounts, many of them simple journalists from around the world who the company verified, regardless of how many followers they had.

Experts have raised serious concerns about revamping the platform’s verification system, which, while not perfect, has helped Twitter’s 238 million daily users determine whether the accounts they were getting information from were authentic.

The update Twitter made to the iOS version of its app makes no mention of verification as part of the new Blue Check system.

Musk, who previously said he wants to “verify everyone” on Twitter, has vowed to use public figures other than the blue tick to identify them. For example, government officials are currently identified with text under their names that says they are posting from an official government account.

For example, President Joe Biden’s @POTUS account says in gray letters that it belongs to a “United States government official.”

The change comes a day after the company began laying off employees to cut costs and as more companies pause advertising on Twitter, while a cautious corporate world waits to see how it will operate under its new owner.

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About half of the company’s 7,500 employees have been laid off, Yoel Roth, head of security and integrity at Twitter, tweeted.

He said the company’s frontline content moderation staff are the group least affected by the job cuts and that “efforts to protect the integrity of the election — including harmful misinformation that can stifle voting, and countering state-backed information operations – remain a top priority”.

Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey blamed the widespread job cuts on Saturday. He has had two runs as CEO of Twitter, most recently from 2015 to 2021.

“I’m responsible for why everyone is in this situation: I scaled up the company too quickly,” he tweeted. “I apologize for that.”

Musk tweeted late Friday that there was no choice but to cut jobs “if the company loses over $4 million a day.” He gave no details of the daily losses at the company and said employees who lost their jobs would be offered three months’ salary as severance pay.

Meanwhile, Twitter has already seen “a massive drop in revenue” due to pressure from activist groups on advertisers to leave the platform, Musk tweeted Friday. This hits Twitter hard because it has so far relied heavily on advertising to make money. For the first six months of this year, nearly $92 of every $100 in revenue came from advertising.

United Airlines became the latest major brand to pause advertising on Twitter. Chicago-based United confirmed on Saturday they had made the move, but declined to discuss why or what they would need to see in order to resume advertising on the platform.

It joins the growing list of major companies pausing ads on Twitter, including General Motors, REI, General Mills and Audi.

Musk tried to reassure advertisers last week by saying Twitter would not become a “hellscape for all” because of what he calls its commitment to free speech.

However, concerns remain as to whether a lighter touch on Twitter’s content moderation will result in users sending more objectionable tweets. This could damage companies’ brands if their ads appear next to them.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. Twitter launches $8 monthly subscription with blue check as Elon Musk overhauls verification system ahead of elections

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