Elon Musk’s predominant agenda, in his own words, is getting rid of the bot accounts on Twitter. The issue, and its confusing disclosure by Twitter, irked him enough that the acquisition drama was dragged to court, with the billionaire threatening to abandon the deal. Now, that Musk is the CEO of Twitter, he is trying to reform the account verification system.
In an unexpectedly controversial fashion, Musk plans to charge verified accounts to pay up to $20 per month to retain that blue badge of authority. The news generated an overwhelmingly negative response. Prolific author Stephen King was among the folks miffed about the proposal, and Musk replied to his tweet with an offer of a lower $8 per month fee.
Interestingly though, Musk added that “it is the only way to defeat the bots & trolls.” Musk has previously defended the idea by claiming that Twitter needs to sustain itself financially and that it can’t rely solely on advertisers. In the early days of wooing bankers for his Twitter purchase, Musk told them he was expecting 69 million Twitter Blue subscribers by 2025 and over 150 million by 2028.
I will explain the rationale in longer form before this is implemented. It is the only way to defeat the bots & trolls.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 1, 2022
Twitter doesn’t enforce any form of robust identity verification process for creating an account, which leaves the doors open for running bot accounts using sham email addresses. Twitter only requires a “valid official government-issued identification document” like a passport or driving license when you submit a request for getting your account verified.
For Musk, verification is tied to the bot problem
Twitter is a free platform, and the background check that happens for verifying an account also doesn’t cost a dime. Charging a nominal fee to keep the verified badge makes sense, to a certain extent, as Twitter can use that revenue to fund the verification work done by its team. If enough verified accounts cough up that fee, Twitter might use the funds to launch a platform-wide human account verification initiative to get rid of the bot problem, to a large extent.
But the biggest problem is getting verified accounts to pay that fee. The verified badge is a trust-building mechanism that allows the audience to separate the signature madness of Twitter with serious, authentic information from a political figure, journalist, health institution, disaster management body, etc. A cash-rich brand like Coca-Cola can easily afford that fee, and so can an international newsroom, a government, or a celebrity.
But for an independent journalist, activist, academic, or anyone else without financial or institutional backing, paying $20 every month may not be easy. The prospects look bleak, as Insider reports that even the likes of CNN are unwilling to pay the verification gas fee for its reporters. On the contrary, if Twitter takes away reputable news organizations’ checkmarks, it could open the gates of misinformation with fake impersonators, and the masses may easily fall for it without a verified badge to help them separate the truth from hoaxes.