Here’s what’s sad about the place Twitter is becoming

Elon Musk’s new Twitter will be completely different because of the changes he’s made in who is verified. Here’s what happened, and what it will feel like:

  • Blue checks are now for sale. The blue checks on accounts previously indicated that they were prominent figures whose identity you could trust. This included well-known people like LeBron James and organizations and companies like Coca-Cola. Now anyone who signs up for Twitter Blue for $7.99 a month can get the same blue check without any identity verification.
  • Will there be officially verified accounts? Yes, but it will be hard to spot them. On Tuesday, Twitter executive Esther Crawford said that some currently verified accounts would continue to have a blue check, as well as an “official” badge. She tweeted, “Not all previously verified accounts will get the “Official” label and the label is not available for purchase. Accounts that will receive it include government accounts, commercial companies, business partners, major media outlets, publishers and some public figures.” One day later, Elon Musk tweeted that he’d killed the “official” badge, although you can still tell who is actually verified by clicking on their profile and then their blue check: officially verified accounts pop up a note that “This account is verified because it’s notable in government, news, entertainment, or another designated category.”
  • Blue check accounts will get prioritized in the algorithm. If you’re neither officially verified nor a paying subscriber, Musk has said that your tweets will be buried. Last night, nearly everything on my feed was from a blue check account. This morning, not so much. But part of the pitch for Twitter Blue is that your tweets will rise relative to those from others.

How this will change Twitter

Currently, the Twitter algorithm prioritizes tweets from those you follow, especially tweets that get a lot of interaction, such as likes and retweets.

Now, your feed will be mostly consist of three things:

  • Tweets from random people who paid money, including trolls and impersonators.
  • Tweets from actually prominent people who remain officially verified — cutting out a lot of currently verified but less famous people like authors, analysts, and executives that are not CEOs of big companies.
  • Tweets that went viral.

For me, the biggest change will be not seeing tweets from smart people. I follow a lot of smart people whose opinions I care about. Many of those folks have left, and many others just won’t pay the $7.99 a month. Here’s a typical example: Mike Masnick, the blogger from TechDirt, whose legal takes on social media are always insightful. If Mike doesn’t pay, he’ll disappear from my feed, despite his 45,000 followers. And even if he does pay, there are thousands of other smart people just like him who won’t pay and will become mostly invisible.

It’s true that you can curate your own list of people you trust and follow that list to replicate the previous experience. But that’s a pain in the butt, and most people won’t do it.

Two-tier Twitter

So prepare for two-tier Twitter. That means a feed full of attention seekers, most of whom paid to get in front of you. And unless you pay, your ability to have a meaningful interaction with those attention seekers will be limited, since your own replies will be deprecated. You can watch the fireworks but not join in. It’s hardly social media if you can’t be social on it.

The pretend verified accounts are just the beginning. Twitter used to be full of fun stuff. Now it will be full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. That’s just a waste, and it makes me sad.

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  1. A writer friend moved to Mastodon, which has built-in features to do what it sounds like you want a media entity to do. You may already have seen this piece:

  2. The link to the NYT article was removed from my post; the piece by Kalley Huang appeared 11/7/22 and was titled “What Is Mastodon and Why Are People Leaving Twitter for It?”

  3. If it were anyone but Elon Musk I think you will have made a solid prediction. (cough, Truth Social, cough) As it is, I think your prediction is a little shaky but still possible. He has demonstrated that he is willing to change direction as soon as he realizes that he will not achieve his desired outcome. This does make him appear quite mercurial, but has also served him well more often than not. It’s a very engineering oriented behavior. He has also shown good skill in putting together management teams or his many successful ventures would not have been so. He’s also a demanding taskmaster and I’m not sure I would want to work for him, but there a large number of skilled and ambitious people that do.
    This task though, to take on the Gordian Knot of the problems that come along with running a big social media service appears to be difficult on the order of a Moon shot. He is making great progress on an actual Moon-shot with SpaceX however and maybe he can pull this off. So far I’m keeping my accounts and watching the fireworks and I’ll see what it looks like in 1, 2, 6, and 12 months.

  4. As if crooks won’t shell out eight bucks a month in order get the surface appearance of being verified? How many people actually click the Verified icon anyway? I’m guessing a few more will now than before, but it won’t be a significant number and the unaware will continue to get fleeced.