SAN FRANCISCO — Twitter has announced a subscription service for $7.99 a month that includes a blue check now given only to verified accounts as new owner Elon Musk works to overhaul the platform’s verification system just ahead of U.S. midterm elections.
In an update to Apple iOS devices available in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the U.K., Twitter said users who “sign up now” for the new “Twitter Blue with verification” can receive the blue check next to their names “just like the celebrities, companies and politicians you already follow.”
But Twitter employee Esther Crawford tweeted Saturday that the “new Blue isn’t live yet — the sprint to our launch continues but some folks may see us making updates because we are testing and pushing changes in real-time.” Verified accounts did not appear to be losing their checks so far.
It was not immediately clear when the subscription would go live. Crawford told The Associated Press in a Twitter message that it is coming “soon but it hasn’t launched yet.” Twitter did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
Anyone being able to get the blue check could lead to confusion and the rise of disinformation ahead of Tuesday’s elections, but Musk tweeted Saturday in response to a question about the risk of impostors impersonating verified profiles — such as politicians and election officials — that “Twitter will suspend the account attempting impersonation and keep the money!”
“So if scammers want to do this a million times, that’s just a whole bunch of free money,” he said.
But many fear widespread layoffs that began Friday could gut the guardrails of content moderation and verification on the social platform that public agencies, election boards, police departments and news outlets use to keep people reliably informed.
The change will end Twitter’s current verification system, which was launched in 2009 to prevent impersonations of high-profile accounts such as celebrities and politicians. Twitter now has about 423,000 verified accounts, many of them rank-and-file journalists from around the globe that the company verified regardless of how many followers they had.
Experts have raised grave concerns about upending the platform’s verification system that, while not perfect, has helped Twitter’s 238 million daily users determine whether accounts they get information from are authentic. Current verified accounts include celebrities, athletes and influencers, along with government agencies and politicians worldwide, journalists and news outlets, activists, businesses and brands, and Musk himself.
“He knows the blue check has value, and he’s trying to exploit it quickly,” said Jennifer Grygiel, a social media expert and associate professor of communications at Syracuse University. “He needs to earn the trust of the people before he can sell them anything. Why would you buy a car from a salesman that you know has essentially proved to be chaotic?”
The update Twitter made to the iOS version of its app does not mention verification as part of the new blue check system. So far, the update is not available on Android devices.
Musk, who had earlier said he wants to “verify all humans” on Twitter, has floated that public figures would be identified in ways other than the blue check. Currently, for instance, government officials are identified with text under names stating they are posting from an official government account.
President Joe Biden’s @POTUS account, for example, says in gray letters it belongs to a “United States government official.”
The announcement comes a day after Twitter began laying off workers to cut costs and as more companies are pausing advertising on the platform as a cautious corporate world waits to see how the platform will operate under its new owner.
United Airlines on Saturday became the latest major brand to pause advertising on Twitter, joining companies including General Motors, REI, General Mills and Audi.
Musk tried to reassure advertisers last week, saying Twitter would not become a “free-for-all hellscape” because of what he calls his commitment to free speech.
Meanwhile, Twitter cannot simply cut costs to grow profits, and Musk needs to find ways to raise more revenue, said Dan Ives, an analyst with Wedbush. But that may be easier said than done with the new subscription program for blue checks.
“Users have gotten this for free,” Ives said. “There may be massive pushback.”
He expects 20% to 25% of Twitter’s verified users to sign up initially. The stakes are high for Musk and Twitter to get this right early and for signups to work smoothly, he added.