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Twitter's Blue Check Fiasco Shows What Happens When Company Process Breaks Down
Also: Stop harassing strangers on the internet, I'm begging you.
“All that for a drop of blood.” - Thanos, Avengers: Infinity War
It’s been a wild week over at Twitter.
One of Elon Musk’s explicit goals when buying Twitter was to undo its legacy blue verified checkmark system. That system had a lot of problems but it did serve one very clear purpose: making sure that the most famous people on the platform were who they said they were. The problem is because of the blue check’s association with journalistic entities, many right-wing elements associate it with being elitist and snobbish. Turns out Elon Musk was very sympathetic to their cause.
After initially promising to remove legacy checks on April 1st, Elon Musk pushed the date back and announced that Thursday, April 20 would be the end-date for the old system. After that, only paid subscribers to Twitter Blue would be able to possess the check. The hope would be that this would juice Twitter Blue subscribers, whose numbers have been abysmal so far.
It’s safe to say that the entire enterprise has been an unmitigated disaster. When that deadline happened this week, hundreds of thousands of formerly verified people were de-verified. It became much harder to tell which organizations are legitimately on Twitter and which ones might be impersonating them. This Twitter thread (h/t:) has a good rundown of how this chaos might make life harder for people who rely on Twitter across many different swaths of internet life.
One of the most interesting results has been how celebrities have reacted to these changes. Many celebrities said that they would be leaving Twitter because they feared impersonation and refused to pay for a subscription for Twitter Blue. The blue check no longer served its primary and most important function of proving who its owner was — it was instead merely a signifier that you’re willing to pay Elon Musk $8/month (and/or maybe you just enjoy some of Twitter Blue’s features). Whatever prestige the blue checkmark might have conferred in the past, Musk and his cronies have managed to flush it down the toilet within a few short months.
Small wonder that people like LeBron James and Steven King did not wish to pay for Twitter Blue. That was when Elon Musk admitted he was paying for those specific users’ Twitter Blue subscription personally. Always a great sign when you need to own your critics by…paying for the service that they despise and that you have to give away via coercion?
The Drama Reaches Its Sickening Endgame
During and after the Great De-Checkening, Twitter made two additional decisions that have added to the chaos:
It changed its verification text (the text that appears when you hover over the blue check) to read “This account is verified because they are subscribed to Twitter Blue and verified their phone number.” A reasonable claim to make, if true.
As of this writing, it has begun automatically RE-verifying everyone that has over 1 million followers on the platform. No explanation has been profferred for why this is occurring, but my guess is the folks at Twitter saw literally every celebrity dunking on Twitter Blue and wanted to stop the bleeding. “See, they’re still subscribed!”
Perhaps you can see the problem with this instantly: The verification text is claiming something that simply has not actually happened. The result? Twitter accounts belonging to deceased folks such as Anthony Bourdain, Jamal Khashoggi, and Chadwick Boseman now bear a check which in a best case scenario is misleading and in a worst case scenario may actually be breaking the law. Whatever the case, it’s ghastly, obscene, and obviously very poorly thought out.
[On a lighter note. There also seems to be a delightful drama unfolding on the side with @dril, one of the greatest Twitter users of all time, trying to evade a verification badge. It turns out that when you change your profile display name, your verification goes away (a precautionary measure intended to prevent impersonation). As a result, he’s been changing his display name over and over, only to keep getting it put back on. The idea of Musk, one of the richest men in the world, hovering over someone’s computer and waiting for dril to change his username so they can put the blue check back on is a mental image that would be objectively hilarious if it wasn’t so very sad.]
There are many lessons to take from this whole saga but here’s one I’ll point to: The value of process. More often than not, process is often something that can cripple once-nimble companies. I’ve experienced this phenomenon in corporate settings, where it often feels like more time is spent gaining alignment between the different arms of your organization than in actually executing or making the experience better for customers.
But many of those steps actually serve a purpose. One of the instructive aspects of the Musk era of Twitter is that it allows us to see what happens when a company becomes unencumbered by process and simply enacts the mercurial whims of a single individual. You get things like a verification statement that was never cleared by your legal or PR or comms department (the latter of which I don’t even believe exist at the company anymore). You get outcomes like a re-verification process that was not announced or communicated clearly and may actually result in claims of false advertising. And you get celebrities all across the board just absolutely savaging the product you desperately need people to subscribe to in order to not go bankrupt.
An absolute failure on every level and only slightly sad because of how needless it all was.
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More Strangers Are Sacrificed To The Internet Gods
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The above video was posted by a user name @jackielabonita on Tiktok. It depicts its creator, an influencer named Jackie, trying to create some content at a ball game while two strangers ridicule her. The video quickly went viral and currently has 25.2MM views on Tiktok and 10MM views on Twitter.
Many comments came to the original poster’s defense and have heaped endless scorn on the women in the video. Internet detectives identified one of the women in the background and have started review-bombing her place of work. Based on how these types of events have gone previously, my guess is the harassment will go on for weeks.
For many Extremely Online people, a situation like this is equivalent to a game or a sport. Someone does something that is pretty mean-spirited and now you, as the internet user, get the chance to do something bad to them — in this case, by doxxing them and directing tons of hate towards them. Many of the comments are reveling in these women’s newfound infamy (and likely misery).
I find this trend incredibly troubling. These people are not public figures. They acted like dicks at a ballgame and they ruined this person’s day — that does suck and they should feel bad. But is that sufficient cause for jeopardizing their livelihoods and inundating them with internet hate? I don’t believe that punishment fits the crime. Kat Tenbarge has a very good thread about this topic here. One of Tiktok’s original involuntary viral sensations Robert McCoy (AKA the Couch Guy) also wrote very eloquently about the subject previously:
Given the apparent tendency of the TikTok algorithm to present viral spectacles to a user base increasingly hungry for content to analyze forensically, there will inevitably be more Couch Guys or Praters in the future. When they appear on your For You page, I implore you to remember that they are people, not mysteries for you to solve. As users focused their collective magnifying glass on Lauren, my friends, and me—comparing their sleuthing to “watching a soap opera and knowing who the bad guy is”—it felt like the entertainment value of the meme began to overshadow our humanity. Stirred to make a TikTok of my own to quell the increasing hate, I posted a video reminding the sleuths that “not everything is true crime”—which commenters resoundingly deemed “gaslighting.” Lauren’s videos requesting that the armchair investigation stop were similarly dismissed as more evidence of my success as a manipulator, and my friends’ entreaties to respect our privacy, too, fell on deaf ears.
Certainly, noncelebrities have long unwillingly become public figures, and digital pile-ons have existed in some form since the dawn of the digital age—just ask Monica Lewinsky. But on TikTok, algorithmic feedback loops and the nature of the For You page make it easier than ever for regular people to be thrust against their wishes into the limelight. And the extent of our collective power is less obvious online, where pile-ons are delivered, as journalist Jon Ronson put it, “like remotely administered drone strikes.” On the receiving end of the barrage, however, as one finds their reputation challenged, body language hyperanalyzed, and privacy invaded, the severity of our collective power is made much too clear.
At the end of the day, if just being in the background of a random viral video can direct the internet mob against you, then one day, inevitably, the mob will come for all of us.