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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Elon Musk’s X restores blue checks to influential accounts

Popular accounts on Elon Musk’s X, formerly Twitter, were surprised Wednesday evening to find they had been gifted premium subscriptions to the service, along with the site’s iconic blue verification badge.

The social network seems to be rolling out a change that Musk posted about on March 27. “Going forward, all X accounts with over 2,500 verified subscriber followers will get Premium features for free and accounts with over 5000 will get Premium+ for free,” Musk said at the time.

It appears to be a bid to attract or retain popular accounts as X faces increasing competition from Meta’s Threads and other text-based social platforms. The gambit comes a year after Musk controversially removed the verification badges from most users who previously had them, reserving the famous “blue checks” and a suite of “premium” features instead for paying subscribers, as he moved toward a subscription-based business model. Those premium features include reduced ads and higher placement in replies to other users’ posts.

But not everyone who had their blue check restored Wednesday was thrilled by it. Some users rushed to make clear that they had not sought out the icon, lest followers think they had become supporters of Musk or X.

“What’s with the random blue check I didn’t ask for or pay for?” MSNBC host Katie Phang wondered.

Attorney and political commentator Elie Mystal posted: “To be clear, even though Elon has forced the mark of the beast upon me, without consent or permission, I will still make fun of people who paid for blue checks.”

When Musk first posted about the change, it was not immediately clear whether he meant that it would affect accounts that had more than 2,500 people paying to subscribe to them personally, or any account with at least 2,500 followers who were paying for X Premium. Judging from the accounts affected Wednesday evening, it appears to have been the latter.

X did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the move. The company’s official brand account and support account did not post about it, and there was no formal announcement as of early Thursday.

Once a mark of authenticity — and, some argued, privilege — reserved largely for politicians, celebrities and journalists, the blue badge’s significance has changed dramatically under Musk. After opening verification as a premium feature to anyone willing to pay soon after he bought Twitter in 2022, Musk’s team began removing the badges from previously verified users in April 2023 if they didn’t become paying subscribers.

While some X users and Musk supporters cheered the move as democratizing, it alienated other longtime accounts. Critics, backed by some research, argued it made it harder to find reliable information on the site. As X has loosened its speech rules and cut back on content moderation, verified users have been among those purveying scams, pro-Nazi memes and nonconsensual deepfake pornography.

In anti-Musk circles, the badge became a punchline.

That may help explain why X is now restoring it to prominent accounts, said Karen North, a professor of digital social media at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

“In a world where the celebrities and public figures refuse to pay for the check mark, then the verification loses its value,” she said. By restoring verification to famous and influential users, whether they like it or not, X increases the value of verification for those who pay for it.

“I think that Elon Musk has made a decision that there are two ways to get verified: One is to prove who you are and pay money, and the other is to earn it through popularity,” North added.

Meanwhile, Meta’s Threads has surged in the nine months since it launched as a Twitter rival. Other alternatives, such as Mastodon and Bluesky, have also grown as users disaffected with Musk’s changes look elsewhere.

In a sign that the battle for creators may be heating up, Meta recently began testing cash bonuses for users who post engaging content on Threads, Business Insider reported Wednesday.

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