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EDITOR IN CHIEF- ABDULLAH BIN SALIM AL SHUEILI

Twitter users are still waiting for a check-mark reckoning

Twitter’s headquarters in San Francisco
Twitter’s headquarters in San Francisco
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SAN FRANCISCO — Twitter users anticipated a reckoning over the weekend as the verification check marks that denoted the accounts of celebrities, politicians, and other notable figures and organizations were set to be removed en masse.


That reckoning didn’t come.


Although Twitter took away the check mark from some accounts, including that of The New York Times, most verified users retained the symbols, which have long been viewed as conferring a special status and showed that the identity of those behind the accounts had been confirmed by the social media service. Pranks from users trying to exploit the change by posing as a celebrity or another public figure were muted, with only a few hoaxes spreading on the platform.


Instead, the most prominent change to Twitter happened Monday, when the platform’s blue bird icon was replaced on some accounts by a doge, a popular online icon of a Shiba Inu dog that has become synonymous with Dogecoin, a type of cryptocurrency. After the change to Twitter’s logo, the digital currency’s price shot up more than 30%.


The inaction around the verification check marks showed that “Twitter has a real crisis of credibility,” said Graham Brookie, a director at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, which studies online misinformation. “When they say they’re going to do a thing right now, they haven’t proven that they are consistently doing those things.”


The shifts to the check-mark program are part of the moves being made by Elon Musk, who bought Twitter in October for $44 billion. Last year, he said that Twitter would begin removing verification check marks from users’ profiles unless they paid an $8 monthly fee for Twitter Blue, a subscription service that includes the blue-and-white check mark badge on users’ profiles.


Musk, who has said he is a champion of free speech, did not respond to a request for comment.


Twitter had previously given the badges to celebrities, politicians, and other notable organizations or people for free as a way to distinguish their accounts from those who sought to imitate them and to show their identities had been confirmed. That helped Twitter because public figures drove “a disproportionate amount of engagement” on the service and the celebrities and politicians could post freely without fear of being impersonated, said Lara Cohen, Twitter’s former global head of marketing and partners.


But after Musk announced the change to Twitter’s verification program last year, a wave of impersonation erupted. In November, a user who had paid for a check mark through Twitter Blue posed as pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, tweeting that it would provide free insulin to customers. The message sent Eli Lilly’s stock tumbling. Other brands faced similar hoaxes, forcing Twitter to pause the sign-ups for Twitter Blue.


Last month, Twitter announced it would start removing check marks on April 1 for those who weren’t paying for the symbols. Apart from individual users paying $8 a month, Twitter planned to charge organizations $1,000 a month for verification that came with a gold check mark, with a number of exceptions, according to internal documents seen by the Times.


On Friday, some verified users began preemptively mourning the loss of their special status by tweeting about their final moments with a check mark and posting pictures of their profiles with their badges. Others revamped their profiles to pose as author J.K. Rowling, NASA, and other famous figures and organizations.


Some said they would not pay for something they had long received for free. NBA star LeBron James said in a tweet last week that his check mark would soon disappear and that “if you know me I ain’t paying.”


News organizations including the Times, The Washington Post, and Politico also said they would not pay for check marks, with some saying that the symbol no longer showed credibility and authenticity since anyone could purchase it.


Others argued the change would level the playing field by allowing anyone who wanted a badge to get one.


“Twitter only verifying elites and friends of Twitter employees was wrong,” Tim Sweeney, CEO of Epic Games, said in a tweet Sunday. “Democratizing verification for $8 was good. Treating everyone the same is principled.”


Yet, over the weekend, almost all verified users kept their badges, leading to questions about whether Musk would follow through or if he was making an April Fools’ day joke.


On Saturday night, in response to a Twitter user who pointed out that the Times had said it wouldn’t pay for verification, Musk tweeted that he would remove the news organization’s check mark from its account. Within an hour, the Times’ gold verification badge disappeared.


Musk said in a tweet Sunday that it was “hypocritical” for the Times to refuse to pay for verification while running a subscription business of its own.


A spokesperson for the Times declined to comment on Musk’s tweets.


On Monday, some users began seeing a doge in place of Twitter’s traditional bird logo. The doge image dovetailed with Musk’s own dealings with Dogecoin, which he has previously tweeted his support for. On Friday, lawyers representing Musk had asked a judge to dismiss a multibillion-dollar racketeering lawsuit that accused the billionaire and Tesla, his electric car company, of manipulating the cryptocurrency’s price with his tweets.


This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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