Twitter Starts Long-Planned Removal Of Blue Check Marks; Purge Affects Journalists, Entertainers And Even Pope Francis

Twitter has begun a wide-scale process of removing the blue check marks from verified account holders, a large swath of the platform’s most high-profile users including journalists, celebrities and even Pope Francis.

Elon Musk, who acquired Twitter last fall for $44 billion, had indicated April 20 would be the date when the long-planned revamp of the blue check system would take effect. In an effort to level the playing field among all users, Musk has phased in an $8 monthly fee for blue check marks, which used to be assigned to account holders verified through an internal process. With Musk-era Twitter starved for revenue and several times smaller in terms of its workforce, the shift makes a certain amount of sense but also marks a milestone in the company’s history.

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Critics of the move have noted that it would make impersonation and fraud all the more feasible. As comedian and documentarian W. Kamau Bell noted, the change alters the dynamic on the platform. “It is amazing how within a few months Elon Musk turned the blue check mark from a “status symbol” to ‘THIS MF’ER PAID FOR TWITTER,’” he tweeted. “It has become an object of utter mockery. Quite a remarkable achievement, really.”

As Bell suggests, it would be easier to list some of the people who still do have blue check marks, among them billionaires Jeff Bezos and Mark Cuban, than to catalog who has lost theirs. But the ranks of the suddenly check-less includes the official New York Times website, Oprah Winfrey, Kim Kardashian and even Pope Francis. All have followings in the tens of millions. The color-coded options on Twitter also include a gold badge for paying corporate accounts and a grey one for government-related entities. Advertisers, many of whom have stepped away from spending money on Twitter given the unreliability of the platform, have the option of paying for a gold check mark, symbolizing a qualified business account. Disney, Apple, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and many others brands have opted for the gold plan, as have media organizations including The Wall Street Journal, Reuters and CNN.

Twitter Blue, which existed in the pre-Musk era but has been redefined in the current regime, has caused rumblings for months given Musk’s oft-expressed disdain for the media. He recently clashed with National Public Radio after labeling the media organization as “government-funded media.” NPR quit Twitter as a result, and PBS followed suit. The BBC, ABC in Australia, CBC/Radio Canada, Korean Broadcasting System and Radio New Zealand have all been tagged as “government-funded,” prompting a backlash from critics who say the label inaccurately lumps them in with totalitarian state-run media in other countries.

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