“Come on, fess up, are you paying for it?” was the first message I received, from a female boss at the newspaper. It was the night of the fallen seals. Last Thursday, Elon Musk gave the order to purge the token from verified accounts. I had one. Several years ago, I went through a whole process to make it clear, publicly, that @javisalas on Twitter is the same Javier Salas who writes for EL PAÍS. Now, after the verified stamps were dropped, only us chumps who paid for one are left with a blue check.
That’s why, ever since, I’ve been receiving messages like this: “We know you paid for the blue check, Javi. You’re not fooling anyone.” Fortunately, all privately, discreetly. No one has reproached me for it in public and I think that’s the key: everyone knows it’s a stigma. Unless you are a fan of Elon and his adventures, the stamp is like a scarlet letter of shame and public disgrace these days. Having the blue check is not just paying for the service — we’ll talk about the service later — it’s taking sides on all of Musk’s toxic statements (and decisions) since he took the reins of Twitter, when he showed up at the social media giant’s headquarters carrying a sink.
Let’s not kid ourselves: Musk approached the platform convinced that the woke left is silencing the political right. And the tycoon is working in earnest to give right-wingers a voice, even if they are neo-Nazis or use Twitter to spread dangerous lies that lead to coups, like Donald Trump did. Musk’s attitude would already be controversial in an ideal, thoughtful world. But in this world of runaway polarization and culture wars, Musk has become a white knight for those on the political right. Picking fights has been his business policy since he paid $44 billion for Twitter, in a masterstroke worthy of study in business schools everywhere: the company is no longer worth half of what he paid for it and has turned its star product into a scarlet letter, a badge of dishonor that no one wants to wear.
Verified accounts are now prioritized— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 25, 2023
On Twitter, people boast about not having a blue seal. It is an honor to have lost verification. So, in another business decision worthy of a Nobel Prize in Economics, Musk has decided to keep the seals as a punishment for those personalities who explicitly said they did not want it. Authors such as Neil Gaiman and Stephen King, the rapper Doja Cat, and the athlete LeBron James, want us to know that they don’t pay. Of the more than 400,000 verified accounts that were there before, not even 5% chose to pay to keep their seal, according to and audit by developer Travis Brown. And only a residual handful since the night of the fallen seals, the same day he successfully exploded a rocket in the clear Texan sky. There is even a campaign to block stamped users, a boycott that scares off commercial accounts legitimately seeking to improve their visibility.
Wearing a MAGA cap to the Oscars
I have an excuse. I tell everyone who makes fun of me: I’ve been paying for several weeks so that I could write this, to tell you what it’s like to live with a paid Twitter account. But people don’t know that. That’s why I’m embarrassed to use some of the services that would give me away, like writing tweets longer than 280 characters. It would be like going out in Lavapiés (a working-class neighborhood of Madrid) wearing a vest, loafers and a Spanish flag bracelet (stereotypical attire of a Spanish conservative voter); or walking around the Oscars wearing a MAGA cap. What other services are available to me in exchange for €8 ($8.84), or €11 ($12.16) if I pay from the app? It allows you to see which articles are being widely shared among the people you follow and the people they follow; it lets you edit tweets, but only for 30 minutes (sometimes it takes you a while to realize there’s a typo) and never in threads (I mostly tweet threads); it waits awhile to send your tweets, in case you want to regret it; and it allows you to jazz up the color of the app’s icon. Is that worth €8 a month?
Tweeters laugh at subscribers because, in reality, it is ridiculous to do so. It’s paying to suck up to Elon. In fact, his account has almost 25,000 subscribers, i.e. people who pay for exclusive content from Elon (and they give him $100,000 a month. Wow!). In addition, Twitter has now given away the blue check to countless accounts with more than a million followers, devaluing the worth of genuine payment. It is something that has angered even Musk’s fans because, of course, they will pay for something he simply gives away even to the wokerati (though he only does it to spite them).
A tour of the Spanish twittersphere shows Arturo Pérez Reverte, (far-right) Vox politicians, right-wing extremist influencers and memes, military paraphernalia accounts, entrepreneurship coaches and internet businesses, all with a blue seal. And then, a bunch of stoicist and male chauvinist self-help accounts: The Superior Man, Discipline of Masculinity, The Stoic, Mental Courage, The Mentality of Success. You can hop across the Iberian Peninsula on the accounts of fragile, wounded males, without ever setting foot on the ground. But the accounts of actress Najwa Nimri, and leftist Spanish politicians Pablo Iglesias and Manuela Carmena are also verified. The problem is that no one knows if the celebrities pay or are paid. And why don’t I just do my job and ask Twitter, you ask? Because Musk has closed the communication office, and if you write to their press email, they automatically reply with a poop emoji (💩).
Of course, the problems of verifying accounts that do not deserve verification have resurfaced: neo-Nazis verified, the Auschwitz Museum unverified; fake accounts of the Sudanese Army generating disinformation about the conflict, verified; deceased users who have not asked for it, such as Kobe Bryant or the murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi, verified; a fake Disney account that tweets racist nonsense, verified. However, the seal was initially withdrawn from major media outlets and has now been returned, but only to some. All this chaos, moreover, could have legal consequences because, in the end, false commercial claims are being made.
That’s why I said chumps before, because it’s paying to publicly declare that you are a Musk fan and that you aspire to have more visibility than you deserve. That’s why Musk tweeted earlier today that those of us with the blue seal will be “prioritized.” What does that mean? It doesn’t matter now. Twitter had many, many weaknesses and we kept reporting them. But now, if we only see Elon fans, Twitter won’t be the influential space it once was. And I don’t want to be laughed at anymore, because that’s all it’s been good for.
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