Twitter Verification Should Be Free For One Simple Reason

The Elon Musk era of Twitter has begun, and it's been ... interesting. Between firing Twitter's top execs, potentially laying off half of Twitter's workforce, and canceling Twitter's Chirp developer conference, one other nugget has surfaced in Musk's business plan — verification. Specifically, Musk wants to pair that coveted blue checkmark with a Twitter Blue subscription, making one a necessary component of the other. In other words, Twitter could charge for verified accounts. Among other Twitter Blue perks will be "priority in replies, mentions and search, ability to post long video/audio, [and] half as many ads."

But the verification checkmark is the most problematic in this scenario for one pretty simple reason: people don't care about their blue checkmark. Among those who have spoken out against the blue check's price tag are author Stephen King (via Yahoo Money) and the entirety of CNN's reporting staff (via Business Insider), both claiming that they will not pay for the privilege of the blue check mark, and they have a good point.

It's additional security

The entire purpose of the blue checkmark is to prove that the person or brand that is communicating is actually who you think they are. Twitter is full of fan accounts, parody accounts, and straight up phony accounts. Sometimes it's a joke, but other times it's for nefarious purposes. Early in my tech career, I was taken by someone posing as an executive for a phone manufacturer. This happens all the time. Musk also notes that this happens all the time.

If you don't know for certain who you are talking to, there is unlikely to be rational discourse. If Musk wants Twitter to be the ultimate town hall where free speech reigns supreme, the best way he can do that is by making sure the people who are putting information out are in fact real people.

It's not Elon Musk's fault that Twitter users turned the blue checkmark into some kind of status symbol. But it is Musk's fault if he perpetuates that myth. Not that Musk has a problem with perpetuating myths, mind you.

It's not for us, Elon, it's for you

The problem is that Elon Musk wants to bundle verification in with a bunch of other Twitter services which people may or may not want. Personally, I don't really care if I'm verified. Yes, I currently have a blue checkmark, so when you read this article, you can rest assured that if you tweet at @DeadTechnology, I will see your response. That's good for you, because you know your voice is being heard. My DMs are open, by the way. Be gentle.

But if Twitter wants someone like me to pay for the privilege of knowing that you can get a hold of me any time you want with confidence, I'm not sure I see the value there. I'm not sure why I should have to pay anything so that other people can know that I'm me. That's the part that Elon Musk is missing here. It benefits Twitter for users to know who they're talking to. It does not benefit those receiving the DMs, comments or retweets.

Money doesn't solve the problem

It's true that charging money might stop some wrongdoers from getting verified and spreading misinformation, but it's equally likely that whoever wants to go through the effort to set up a parody account might not mind tossing eight bucks into a hat to make their scam a little more believable. Payment is a barrier, but here, it's not a very high barrier. You know what is a high barrier? A driver's license or passport. That's what currently verified users had to produce for their checkmark, and it would take a lot of skill to fake that. Eight dollars, as Musk so cheerfully points out, is basically one less Starbucks order per month.

Charging might stop some low-level trolls from setting up fake accounts, but for those who are really intent on doing harm, no amount of money will be a deterrent. If anything, Musk would be making their jobs easier by adding a blue check mark for nothing more than a credit card number.

There are really fun and helpful bots

This doesn't take into account the fact that while most bots are probably useless or harmful, there are plenty of bots out there that are fun. @RikerGoogling is a fun one I follow because I'm a fan of "Star Trek: The Next Generation". @Threadreaderapp is a neat bot that will take a long Twitter thread and reproduce it in one page for easier reading. Just reply to any tweet in the thread "@threadreaderapp unroll" and it will respond with a link to the page. Then there's @JonyIveParody which plays on former Apple designer Jony Ive's design philosophy and minimalism. Of course, let's not forget @ElonJet (and a host of others) which tracks Elon Musk's private plane wherever it flies, and once got Musk to offer $5,000 to shut the account down. Musk recently increased that offer to $44 billion. 

There is a place for bots on Twitter. Automated services, parody accounts, and fan accounts all have a place on the platform. There's no need to stamp all of them out, but there's also really no way to automate separating the wheat from the chaff.

Except shadow banning

There is one premium feature that Musk mentioned, which is potentially hazardous: Priority placement in replies and search. That is one very small step away from shadow-banning. Paying for the ability to put your words in front of more people is not a new concept by any stretch of the imagination, but it's hardly in line with Musk's other stated goal of a "free speech" platform.

Musk says, this is necessary to defeat spam and scams, but here's the thing: It's not. Verification is actually the essential component to defeating scams and spam. Does he think that spammers and scammers only use free tools? Elon, have you met the internet?

Also, if paying can get your replies and search results higher, then not paying will get your replies and search results lower. In the not-too-distant future, Twitter may become an outlet of haves and have nots (or in Elon's words, lords and peasants), which is not what free speech or town squares are supposed to be about. In those situations, everyone should have an equal voice. Pushing down those who have the temerity to not pay you is the act of a tyrant, not a leader.

You can still be blue

That's not to say I don't like the idea of a premium Twitter, or Twitter Blue. I currently pay for Twitter Blue, because I like the ability to edit tweets and see what articles the people I follow are interested in. I also like the ability to read threads on one page. All those are fine add-ons and certainly worth paying some kind of premium, in my opinion. They help me. That's smart business. But verification should be a separate thing and should not cost anything. Verification doesn't help me. Its only purpose is to create a better Twitter environment.

 Musk is more than welcome to add a premium tier, but the two should be separate. 

If you want people to pay to use Twitter, that's fine. It would be worthwhile to develop features that increase the value of the website so that people will pay for it. Bundling in verification along with those features is absolutely the wrong move. Not to contradict MKBHD who is absolutely right, by the way, but it has nothing to do with the fact that it was free before and should stay free. It has everything to do with quality of experience on the website, which is something Musk should pursue with every fiber of his $44 billion.