In 2022, before billionaire and technocrat Elon Musk took over Twitter, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) had reported that Mr Musk was not assuming ownership of the microblogging site to make more money.
Contrary to the report, due to Twitter’s recent developments, people are disgruntled at the new proprietor’s handling of the social media platform, stating that he is revenue-centred.
The verification badge, called Twitter Blue, now has to be paid for, or one has to boast of a million followership to receive the check next to your name. This was not the practice, and the new development seems to have raised concerns.
The blue check was only accorded to government officials, celebrities, journalists, and news platforms. Now, it is available to anyone who has US$8 to spare. When Mr Musk first purchased Twitter, the company witnessed a 40% drop in revenue, as The Guardian reported, because Audi and Pfizer halted advertisements on the app. This was due to growing anxieties over impersonator accounts due to paid verified accounts.
But one should not be so quick to cast a stone at the company and its owner for its seemingly profits-hasty decisions.
95% of Twitter’s revenue is generated from advertisements run on the app.
But 500 of its clients were pregnant with second thoughts about stopping advertisements through the company’s app when the Twitter blue subscription was rolled out.
The company also faced an almost $13bn debt burden (as the Guardian quotes Financial Times).
Mr Musk was forced to sell some of his Tesla shares and even put Twitter in bankruptcy protection- it was indeed desperate times for the $44bn-purchased company- one that needed desperate measures.
In December last year, the Guardian reported Mr Musk stated that Twitter was experiencing a “negative cash flow situation of $3bn a year” but indicated that the company might reach a breakthrough, even after cost-cutting measures including an exodus of 5,000 staffers after massive layoffs.
But let’s call a spade a spade. Is the paid Twitter Blue subscription a bid to rake in more income for the giant company?
Controversies lie around the motive behind a verified account. While undeniably a blush on the lips, a verified user becomes quite conscious of the unspoken reverence he receives on the app for having a blue tick next to his name, the essence of the verification is much less talked about. People see the blue check as important, more or less a force to reckon with. But a plot twist: in 2017, the Twitter Support staff started to receive backlash for verifying accounts owned by white supremacists. It suddenly became aware of the public’s misinterpretation of account verification.
The Twitter Support Team had to come out and inform the public in a November 2017 tweet that the essence of verifying an account was to “authenticate identity & voice” rather than “as an endorsement or an indicator of importance” as was generally perceived.
But with a comeback to the present-day reality, one will discover that the company was still maintaining the status quo but now dismantling a “barrier” and giving every user the equal privilege to secure their identity, unlike in the past administration. The development is supposed to act as a democracy that the new owner had been campaigning for before he purchased the company. But it now seems like paid democracy- one a user has to purchase before he can enjoy its benefits.
The paid verification subscription, in other words, means that it had handed democracy to the people on the one hand and a choice on the other- the two working simultaneously for the profits-benefit of the social media giant. So the company might care less about those users (especially those with public portfolios and celebrities) who had not paid anything to have the verification status in the previous administration, now stripped off of the blue tick (except they have over a million followers). This is because the privilege is still available for them to secure their identities. Still, it comes at an $8.00 price- one that is widely speculated to generate huge revenue for the company.
Even Mr Musk has indirectly been reported to have admitted to the revenue-generating policies of the company as its new owner in a February 2023 tweet, stating that revenue would be “shared” with content creators on the app over ads they see on their threads. However, a clause is attached to the policy in which an “eligible” beneficiary must be a “subscriber to Twitter Blue Verified,” the Twitter boss had written.
That only establishes that the company’s hierarchy may have sought social media liberation and “free speech” that it thought the former administration was not letting users have. Still, it has soon fixed its attention to implementing policies that are not “try(ing) to help humanity” but also to be a revenue spinner.
Whether that is a favourable scheme better than the dispensation of the former leader cannot be distinctly determined. But of course, there are brewing concerns over the carefree attitude of this present leadership in its running of the bird app. Among these concerns is its unperturbed disposition towards the presence of bots and verified fake accounts. Many of these accounts are notorious for dishing out fake news and political propaganda.
Furthermore, cases of misinformation are widespread on the App because some of these accounts are state-backed media accounts that keep popping up in the “For you” tab. Russia’s RT and China’s Global have become notorious for spreading state-interest propaganda alongside numerous bot accounts run by them.
Washington Post reports Mr Musk’s latest decision to de-label government-controlled or funded media accounts only creates a wider avenue for such state-owned accounts to spread more misinformation without being easily detected by users. The Washington Post quoted Atlantic Council researcher, Alyssa Kann, saying, “This change potentially just makes it harder for users to distinguish between trustworthy information as opposed to being done by political actors,” she opined.
Mr Musk seems to remain passive in disciplining tendencies set to propagate media misinformation. Although he has informed users that those involved in impersonating accounts will be suspended permanently, factors liable for causing the misinformation pandemic, especially open-ended verification and account cloning, have not improved the situation.