After Elon Musk’s buyout of Twitter, there have been tumultuous and chaotic attempts to keep the company afloat as it descends further into bankruptcy. According to a New York Times article by Tiffany Hsu and Kate Conger, Musk plans to charge a recurring fee for the blue verified check mark. This new verification system risks amplifying dangerous misinformation as details regarding users’ authority become increasingly elusive.
The blue badge was initially added alongside the usernames of celebrities and organizations to confirm their identities for other users, countering impersonation, according to the Guardian. However, to increase revenue, all users will now be granted a verified check if they pay a monthly eight dollar fee. Twitter has provided no policy on how they plan to actually authenticate accounts, meaning there is risk of impersonators exploiting the system, according to an NPR article by Emma Bowman and Raquel Maria Dillon. This is especially dangerous during elections where one could impersonate a respected public figure only to espouse conspiracy theories. Banning inauthentic profiles only goes so far as these accounts proliferate faster than Twitter’s ability to stop them.
On Nov. 11, @elonmusk tweeted, “as Twitter pursues the goal of elevating citizen journalism, media elite will try everything to stop that from happening,” which assumes the new system will promote freedom of speech. With or without check marks, people will still be able to exercise their free speech. However, the problem is that authority will become muddled as anyone can claim authenticity. Twitter has always been rife with misinformation, even among verified accounts, but at least with the previous system we could map those accounts to the actual people. When a celebrity made a dubious claim, we could google them, read up on where their authority comes from, and research their controversies. Today, if someone paid for a verified label and claimed “birds aren’t real,” there is not enough information about them to verify their authority. Without background research on them, there is no challenge to their authority, meanwhile, the blue badge will misleadingly authenticate their words. In this case, validity becomes dependent on who is willing to spend the money, rather than actual authenticity. In addition, while it is important to be critical of experts, it is also crucial to understand that ordinary people’s views are not equal in merit to an ornithologist with a PhD as both people have different levels of authority on the subject.
I was a Twitter user even though I was warned against it, but I recently deleted both of my accounts to narrowly avoid what seemed like disastrous new leadership. I might be overreacting, but we are living in a world where truth is perpetually elusive. However, with robust verification systems, truth can be attainable as long as it is also facilitated by a willingness among users to be critical of what they see on social media whether claims come from verified accounts or not. Assuming authenticity based on a “verified” label alone can be problematic.
Jack Butler is from Duluth, Minn.
His major is sociology/anthropology.