Twitter Verification has Never Been Easy. Charging $8 per Month will Not Solve the Problem

Elon Musk has only been in charge of Twitter for a few days, but he is already causing significant disruption. Few of his ideas have sparked as much debate as his plan to charge for verification as part of a larger overhaul of Twitter’s subscription service, Blue.

He described the current system as “bullshit,” and stated that his plan is to include verification as a perk to Twitter Blue, which will increase in price from $5 to $8 per month. All users who pay will receive the checkmark, while those who do not will lose it, even if they were verified under Twitter’s previous system. Subscriptions will also reduce advertisements and make accounts more visible in replies and searches, a sort of anti-shadowban.

While Musk’s plans may win him some supporters among those who oppose the concept of “blue check Twitter,” they also demonstrate that he fundamentally misunderstands verification. And, while he is correct that the current system is broken, charging for verification would exacerbate the problem rather than solve it.

Authenticity is the goal of verification

Musk’s plan ignores the purpose of verification in the first place: to convey authenticity. Because Twitter does not have a real-names policy, a verified badge assists in determining whether an account belongs to the person or entity whose name appears at the top. “The blue Verified badge on Twitter lets people know that an account of public interest is authentic,” according to Twitter’s help centre.

It may appear to some as a status symbol, but it is given to journalists, celebrities, public officials, and other notable figures because there is inherent risk in not verifying those people.

“Verification was never intended to convey status,” explains Nu Wexler, a policy consultant and former Twitter policy communications rep. “It was simply a Twitter response to impersonation attempts.”

However, Musk appears unconcerned about impersonation. In response to a question about newly verified users impersonating Musk, he said, “that already happens very frequently.”

Musk is correct in this regard. It is a well-known scam to hack verified accounts and then change their profiles to look like Musk. However, getting rid of these types of con artists was allegedly one of his primary motivations for purchasing Twitter for $44 billion in the first place. (Ironically, according to Twitter’s head of safety, scammers are already using the prospect of paid verification as a phishing ploy.)

As actor Robert Kazinsky pointed out in a viral Twitter thread, impersonation scams can have serious consequences. “I don’t tweet much because I am afraid of the internet and struggle with many things in life.” “However, this account exists so that fake accounts cannot,” he wrote, adding that people impersonating him online have previously used his identity to initiate conversations with children.

Making verification solely dependent on who is willing to pay for it could have even more serious consequences for misinformation spread. Twitter is used by public officials, government agencies, journalists, activists, and others all over the world to communicate important information to the general public. Making their verification conditional on payment, or making it easier for others to impersonate them, would undermine Musk’s vision of Twitter as a “town square.”

Verification has always been perplexing and unjust
Musk is correct that Twitter’s current verification system could be significantly improved. Twitter verification has always been a mess, but not because it is sometimes viewed as a status symbol.

The truth is that Twitter has never fully explained how verification works or why some people receive it while others do not. It was introduced in 2009, but there was no public-facing request tool until 2016. Instead, for nearly a decade, the company quietly verified celebrities, journalists, and other public figures primarily through backchannel connections made by agents and public relations staffers. As a result, even some public figures who clearly qualified for it were unable to be verified.

The decision to make verification requests available to the public in 2016 was supposed to solve this problem. However, after verifying a white nationalist, the company paused the effort a little more than a year after opening public requests.

For the next four years, verification was “paused.” Except it wasn’t completely stopped. The company continued to quietly verify thousands of accounts using the same behind-the-scenes process it had been using for years. In other words, it is still as opaque and perplexing as it was before.

Even when Twitter announced at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic that it would expand verification to include more doctors and health experts, there was widespread confusion about how these verifications would take place. Some researchers who were confirmed to be a part of the expansion had no idea how it happened.

Finally, in 2021, Twitter re-opened verification, only to re-pause it after only eight days because the company had mistakenly verified a fake Cormac McCarthy account. ( Requests for verification have been resumed.

Twitter Blue and verification serve distinct functions
So, yes, verification has always been problematic. And Musk isn’t the first to propose universal verification as a solution. Back in 2018, former CEO Jack Dorsey stated that he wished to make it available to everyone. “The plan is to make verification available to everyone… And people can verify more facts about themselves without us having to be the judge or imply any bias on our part,” he said during a livestream.

However, incorporating verification into Twitter Blue, which is intended to provide additional benefits to those who pay, does not address the underlying issue. While it theoretically allows everyone to be verified, it also creates new incentives for those who try.

“There is a market for Twitter to charge power users for features such as an edit button or priority customer service,” he says. “However, selling authenticity simply invites bad actors to impersonate elected officials and news organisations.”

Separating verification and identity authentication is one solution. Even Musk appears to recognise the need for more context in some accounts. He stated that “for someone who is a public figure, there will be a secondary tag below the name, as is already the case for politicians.”

An early version of this appears to have already surfaced, on Dorsey’s Twitter account, which had a “official account” label underneath his blue check, according to a screenshot of an internal build of the service.

However, extra labels do not address the real threat posed by impersonators, which is what verification was designed to combat.


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