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Twitter says anyone can receive the blue check mark next to their names "just like the celebrities, companies and politicians you already follow."
Twitter has announced a subscription service for $7.99 a month that includes a blue check mark 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 mark 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, and Crawford did not immediately respond to a message to clarify the timing. Twitter also did not immediately respond to a message for 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 people — 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 represent the end of Twitter's current verification system, which was launched in 2009 to prevent impersonations of high-profile accounts such as celebrities and politicians. Before the planned overhaul, Twitter had 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 the accounts they were getting information from were authentic. Current verified accounts include celebrities, athletes, influencers and other high-profile public figures, along with government agencies and politicians worldwide, journalists and news outlets, activists and businesses and brands, and Musk himself.
"He knows the blue check has value, and he's trying to exploit it quickly," said Jennifer Grygiel, an associate professor of communications at Syracuse University and an expert on social media. "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 that 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 that they are posting from an official government account.
President Joe Biden's @POTUS account, for example, says in gray letters it belongs to an "United States government official."
The change 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 it will operate under its new owner.
About half of the company's staff of 7,500 was let go, tweeted Yoel Roth, Twitter's head of safety and integrity.
He said the company's front-line content moderation staff was the group the least affected by the job cuts and that "efforts on election integrity — including harmful misinformation that can suppress the vote and combatting state-backed information operations — remain a top priority."
Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey on Saturday took blame for the widespread job losses. He had two runs as CEO of Twitter, with the most recent stretching from 2015 into 2021.
"I own the responsibility for why everyone is in this situation: I grew the company size too quickly," he tweeted. "I apologize for that."
Musk tweeted late Friday that there was no choice but to cut jobs "when the company is losing over $4M/day." He did not provide details on the daily losses at Twitter and said employees who lost their jobs were offered three months' pay as a severance.
Meanwhile, Twitter has already seen "a massive drop in revenue" because of pressure from activist groups on advertisers to get off the platform, Musk tweeted Friday. That hits Twitter hard because of its heavy reliance so far on advertising to make money. During the first six months of this year, nearly $92 of every $100 it made in revenue came from advertising.
United Airlines on Saturday became the latest major brand to pause advertising on Twitter, confirming the move but declining to discuss the reasons for it or what it would need to see to resume advertising on the platform.
It joined the growing list of big companies pausing ads on Twitter, 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.
But concerns remain about whether a lighter touch on content moderation at Twitter will result in users sending out more offensive tweets. That could hurt companies' brands if their advertisements appear next to them.
Additional reporting by the Associated Press.
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