Twitter owner Elon Musk is seen with a Twitter logo in this photo illustration on September 21 2022.nbsp
Twitter owner Elon Musk is seen with a Twitter logo in this photo illustration on September 21, 2022. From Getty Images.

Requiem for the Twitter Blue Check

The end of the legacy verified badge—and with it, the end of a particular era of social media—may finally arrive this weekend. Will we miss it? 

Here it comes! At last! Maybe! Supposedly on April 1, which is definitely not a calendrically convenient date chosen in case none of this works out and it can be chalked up as an April Fool’s joke, Twitter will begin the forewarned “blue check” purge. After Twitter Blue’s spluttery roll out last fall, which was supposed to convince everyone to fork over $8 per month (now down to $7?) to obtain or keep their verified badge, the company announced earlier this week that the legacy verified program will start winding down this weekend—as in, removing legacy check marks users held for free prior to Elon Musk’s takeover of the social platform. 

Musk has been threatening to do this since pretty much the beginning of his Twitter tenure, with his official reasoning alternating between “treating everyone equally” and like, keeping AI bots marginally at bay; I can’t imagine the company’s dire revenue woes have anything to do with it. Whether or not Twitter is even capable of successfully revoking badges en masse in the coming days, Musk will have at least succeeded in changing what it means to be a Blue Check once and for all. Tellingly, he seems to have an inkling about how badly this will all be received by planning to also offer the option to hide the badge once you’ve paid for it. We are living in genius times, my friends.

I’ll be the first to admit that oh, yes, nattering again about the Twitter badge absolutely counts as classic blue check behavior, though I think the reason it has always occupied such boundless headspace in the imaginations of both authentiscenti and MAGA conservatives alike is that the badge has become something of a lightning rod for our collective anxieties about navigating the massive dogpile of an internet that we all increasingly rely on for a sense of personhood. Lest we forget, Twitter verification first rolled out in 2009, was originally intended as a service to confirm literal identity as a benefit for all users: public figures who didn’t want their images tarnished by imposters, yes, but also “to make sure random people looking at sites weren’t confused,” as the MSNBC journalist Hayes Brown reminded me over the phone when I called around this week to see how more than a half dozen prominent Blue Checks felt about the impending shift. 

Throughout its existence, the verification process was regularly the subject of controversy once its intended utility for authentication became clearly inextricable from functioning as a mental heuristic for who seemed to matter on the internet. Conferring the same designation that actual celebrities and like, presidents held to media professionals especially—in an era where one’s “online brand” can become a matter of career-making importance—was a critical move that changed Twitter and the rules of internet fame. In one fell swoop, the badge became the closest thing to professional accreditation that journalists (particularly from underrepresented backgrounds) and a whole category of fuzzily defined personalities could command; almost overnight, Twitter turned from a conveyor belt into an online hierarchy. 

Culture and sports author Shea Serrano, who was crowned “King of Twitter” in 2016, told me he could still picture the exact moment when he found out he was verified—he’d been sitting on his bed at home and saw an influx of text messages from other writer friends sending their congratulations. “It was an exciting thing!” Serrano recalled. Two journalists I spoke with talked about receiving a verified badge with the feeling of finally “making it” in the industry; as Brown put it to me, “It was like, Wow, I’ve been welcomed into this little club.” In the heyday of 2010s digital media, being upgraded to a blue check was often as simple as getting roped into a company spreadsheet that the social media team sent over to Twitter: “It was not some mystical process,” New Yorker writer Jay Caspian Kang, who recalled getting verified during his time writing at ESPN, told me. That is, it felt as special as it did suspiciously arbitrary, especially since the check mark stayed with you wherever else you might go in your career. “We probably never deserved it,” Samir Mezrahi, who runs the viral @kalesalad and @zillowgonewild accounts and asked to be officially identified as “a guy who’s been on Twitter for a long time,” told me frankly.

Besides being a tangible professional and social flex, being verified on Twitter had more immediate real-world benefits too—whom amongst us hasn’t tried tweeting desperately at an airline (and for that, I am sorry but not that much, @United) in hopes of getting immediate customer service as an extwa spwecial internet person in times of need? Because honestly, sometimes it worked: The writer Ashley Reese remembered using Twitter to call out a medication delivery service for complicating the matter of her late husband’s cancer medications, knowing that her status as a verified user and sizable following didn’t exactly hurt when making her case. “There’s little things like that, where you know you can get a boost or more attention,” she acknowledged. 

Eventually, though, being a Blue Check also meant walking around with, if not a target—as is the case for anyone in the public eye who isn’t a white dude—then at least a visible kick me sign on one’s back (who could forget the Great Muting of July 2020, when Verifieds couldn’t tweet for a night?). Particularly in the Trump era, conservatives who have long been suspicious of social platforms’ algorithmic bias, as well as the monolith of mainstream media, adopted “blue check” as a shorthand for self-important liberal elites. “It all comes down to people who think others should not get this undeserved status symbol above the common masses,” Brown said. “No one is mad that Seth Rogen has a verified Twitter account.” 

Which brings us to our current state of the blue check, for however long we have it. Several journalists I spoke to expressed concern for a less clearly authenticated Twitter to come, particularly when the next breaking news event unfolds (It’s worth noting Musk said last week that any “Twitter account affiliated with a verified organization [will be] automatically verified”). It’s also worth noting, of course, that verification was never itself a complete safeguard against disinformation, as Kang pointed out: “I think there’s a lot of wrong information on Twitter, and it’s actually more dangerous when it comes with an ad hoc verification system that makes people think it’s real because the person had a blue check next to it. We saw that in a few instances, like around the Boston Marathon bombing, right, where it seemed like people gave more trust to blue check accounts. And those people are sometimes just people who are, like, watching the police scanner.” 

But over the past few months, nearly everyone I spoke to agreed that they were unwilling to personally pay to keep their badge, often expressing some form of the sentiment that the check just doesn’t feel as shiny as it used to, anyway—easy for a long-time Blue Check to say, of course. (According to Semafor media reporter Max Tani, it’s much cooler now, in the vein of big names like Olivia Nuzzi or Jia Tolentino, to purposefully forgo the check altogether—“It’s a reminder that you don’t actually need one.”) The author Liz Plank described the whole badge ordeal as just another indignity to suffer on an app that feels increasingly less worth it: “It’s like, your favorite restaurant is going to crap, and then charging more for food. You’re not cleaning up the place, and now you’re asking me to pay double for the burger that’s not even that good? I would never pay for any of this!” Only Mezrahi has told me that he’s interested in subscribing to Twitter Blue, reasoning to me over the phone: “If it gets you more reach…” 

Honestly, it’s hard to say whether a fully Muskified version of the verified badge will change Twitter all that much: Musk has stated that only verified users will show up in the For You recommendations—oh, but actually so will the people you’re following anyway? (We call that natural-style Twitter). He also says voting in polls will require verification, which will only be a complete bummer to anyone who cares about Twitter poll veracity

As for the rest of us, we all know by now we’re not leaving the platform any time soon, even amidst a growing awareness that the general Twitter experience is getting increasingly worse—especially in comparison to the increasingly more important TikTok and Instagram badges (as Reese told me: “If Instagram holds firm on doing whatever clandestine process they have to make people verified while Twitter will let in anyone who pays $8, it will make Twitter look even more bootleg than it currently is.”) The only thing we’ve really learned from this months-long will-he-or-won’t-he is that Musk continues to fashion himself as some kind of noble god who will rebalance the scales of internet clout, but mostly in favor of himself

In the end, I can’t decide if it’s more horrifying to wind up on a version of Twitter where we only see what (or who) a billionaire wants us to see, or if all of this is being done in pursuit, not of a particular belief system or one man’s goal to be The Specialest Tweeter of All, but as a strategy to cater to the only kind of personhood that really matters on the internet anymore: paying customers.