It's been less than a week since Elon Musk became "Chief Twit" at Twitter and he has already come up with ideas that are stupider than walking into HQ with a sink. According to a report from The Verge, the new owner of Twitter wants to charge users $20 per month for a verified blue check. Update: Twitter later rolled out the subscription product for $8 per month, but it was initially proposed at $20.
This feature would be part of Twitter Blue, the existing subscription feature that launched last year. Musk has not been subtle about his distaste for the monthly $4.99 product, which admittedly is not very appealing to anyone beyond power users. Currently, subscribing to Twitter Blue gets you early access to some features like the edit button, as well as the ability to change the design of the Twitter app icon on your phone. You can also get ad-free access to certain news sources, as well as a feed of the most talked about articles from the people you follow, and the people they follow.
"What committee came up with the list of dog shit features in Blue?!? It's worth paying to turn it off!" venture capitalist Jason Calacanis texted Elon Musk in April. The exchange was revealed as part of discovery in the trial between Twitter and Musk.
"Yeah, what an insane piece of shit!" Musk replied.
Now, Calacanis -- who changed his Twitter bio to say he is Chief Meme Officer at Twitter -- is supposedly part of Musk's "war room," alongside Musk's other VC buddies, like David Sacks.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 31, 2022
Musk and Calacanis have continued toying with the idea of paid user verification since April. Calacanis, per the leaked texts, laid out a five-part plan to Musk, including the concept of a "membership team," which would "remove bots while getting users to pay for 'real name membership.'" He also complained that "no one is setting priorities ruthlessly" at Twitter, and that "12,000 people are working on whatever they want."
Musk responded, "Want to be a strategic advisor to Twitter if this works out?"
The desire to "authenticate all humans" has been part of Musk's plan since he initially made his takeover bid. Potential security flaws aside, this plan ignores the fundamental difference between verifying someone's identity, and giving someone a blue check to denote that they are who they say they are.
“You could easily clean up bots and spam and make the service viable for many more users — removing bots and spam is a lot less complicated than what the Tesla self driving team is doing,” Calacanis texted Musk. “And why should blue check marks be limited to the elite, press and celebrities? How is that democratic?”
Musk and his buddies view this plan as a way to get people to actually give Twitter money. But by monetizing a symbol that currently has value, they will ultimately remove all of that existing value.
Blue checks exist on social platforms as a means of combating misinformation. Currently, if someone makes a fake account pretending to be a world leader, journalist or celebrity, it's easy to tell it's a fake if the account doesn't have a blue check. But under this newly proposed system, there's not much incentive to pay the $20 per month to stay verified, especially since the once-coveted symbol would be available to anyone willing to pay. It's quite possible that bad actors trying to pose as journalists to spread fake news would be more incentivized to pay the $20 than actual journalists.
The Chief Twit doesn't seem to care very much about the dangers of misinformation, though. Just this weekend, Musk tweeted (and then deleted) a fraudulent conspiracy theory about the attack on Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's husband.
Another avenue for this feature could be to charge corporations like Netflix or Steak-umm (which has a great Twitter presence) to be verified. Corporate clients are likely more willing than a local nonprofit newsroom to drop $20 a month per account to prove legitimacy. Yet this still doesn't solve the misinformation issue, and if anything, it pressures companies into buying a product that they've gotten free for years in order to prevent a possible PR problem.
For now, it doesn't seem like Twitter users are particularly enthusiastic about this plan. Calacanis posted a poll asking how much people would pay to be verified, and at the time of publication, about 81% of more than a million respondents said that they would not pay. But as our own Ivan Mehta wrote earlier, "Seven days is a long time in Elonverse and he might come up with a different verification tactic altogether." Hopefully, that plan is a bit more thought-through than this one.