Well, it’s certainly been an exciting weekend. In the initial 48 hours Elon Musk took over Twitter, we saw multiple executives, including the CEO, Parag Agarwal, terminated “for cause” (presumably, to avoid payment of golden parachutes) but also, the leak of some news by The Verge that Twitter’s software engineering team has been told to roll out a new “pay to play” verified account feature in the next ten days, or also lose their jobs as well.
Look, mergers and acquisitions are always full of a lot of drama, and as a result, there are always people on the winning and losing teams.
But Twitter has been under the proverbial microscope ever since Elon Musk announced his intention in May to purchase the company and there’s been a great deal of armchair quarterbacking of the off-and-on trainwreck that has resulted since.
Also: Elon Musk promises not to make Twitter a ‘free-for-all hellscape’
And yes, some of us have raised the idea that we should be looking at creating Twitter alternatives. However, this is not that post.
Twitter has been losing money for a long time, going back to 2019. There was a brief period of profitability between 2018 and 2019, but the company lost over a billion dollars in 2020 and over $220M in 2021. Q1 and Q2 of 2022 showed operating losses of $128M and $344M, respectively.
So, for the company to be profitable in the long term, it needs an income stream, unless the entire purpose of this venture by Musk is to make it into his personal toy — or perhaps his motivations are purely ideological, as per Dave Troy’s recent missive on his Medium blog.
While I will not rule out either of these two reasons as part of Musk’s billionaire logic to justify his purchase of Twitter, let’s take the acquisition at face value that the privatization of the company also means he wants to turn it around and transform the service into something people actually want to pay to use.
What does Twitter verification mean?
I have enjoyed Twitter verification as a technology industry journalist for over a decade because of my writing as an Op-Ed columnist for ZDNET. For a journalist, verification brings a certain amount of gravitas, as it helps with tweet amplification but does not necessarily increase followers. But as someone who has also been working in the technology industry for various corporate entities, the checkmark has also brought esteem and visibility to these companies that have had a Twitter-verified journalist on staff.
Has it been beneficial to me? Yes. Has it been helpful to these companies? Also yes.
Traditionally, accounts that have been verified have to be “authentic, notable, and active” such as a brand, a celebrity, a politician, a journalist, or a writer. While I do follow unchecked accounts, journalists follow other journalists and other high-profile accounts because it helps us disseminate the news, and quite frankly, we tend to congregate around each other. But also, our feeds can only be so big if we want to be able to follow what is going on, so we pare them down to what we feel is most relevant for us to do our jobs, which is typically other verified accounts.
I am not against the idea of paying for Twitter if it does something I want to pay for. For a while, I was a Twitter Blue subscriber. But beyond a questionable “delete timer” feature that allowed you to revoke a post before it went live, it didn’t do much else I wanted to use. While the ad-free articles were nice, I also get a lot of this stuff as part of my Apple News+ subscription on Apple One, so I didn’t see the benefit of that feature. Thus, when Twitter Blue increased its prices, I ended my subscription.
Now we are hearing talk of paying as much as $20 per month for verification — the scuttlebutt is that if existing verified do not agree to pay that $240 per year within 90 days of that feature being announced, they will lose their verification.
Many of us will see this as a cost of doing business, and I suspect the most visible people in the journalism field will begrudgingly pay this fee. Local newspaper writers aren’t exactly well-compensated in their profession, so it’s more of a burden for those folks. Some outlets may be willing to do this for their employees, but that remains to be seen.
Other services like LinkedIn understand this need to sponsor the press and offer a Journalist program where it renews Premium memberships once a year for qualified individuals. But LinkedIn has a much different value proposition than Twitter verification; it’s an essential business networking tool where our resumes live online. So, many of us do pay for it for that reason.
But what does paying to play for verification mean? Does it devalue those of us that “earned” that verification, the journalists and celebs with large fan bases? If anyone can be verified, that just means you have money to blow on a stupid icon. That includes hate-spewing misogynists, racists, antisemites, anti-LGBTQ+, and other extremists.
What I would pay for
I suspect there will be currently verified folks who won’t want to pay that price out of principle, and we might lose a lot of legitimate checked people. But I’d like to see some actual value of this premium subscription besides the stupid icon — how about giving us Revue newsletters that actually do something? For example, I’d like to see content creators be able to deploy newsletters in Twitter directly to our followers in the smartphone and tablet apps automatically from curated tweets, instead of this crummy email-based system that adds to the spam pile.
Oh, you don’t remember the Revue acquisition? Nobody does because the technology was never appropriately integrated.
So yes, I would pay monthly for a real Twitter newsletter to be distributed to all my followers based on curated tweets on a weekly basis with some pricing consideration for total follower count — as well as for Ad-Free usage, a real Tweet edit, and a bunch of other things in a revamped Blue service, such as NewsGuard integration that would verify the transparency and journalistic integrity of other Tweets I am looking at.
However, I am not sure I would pay for any of that at the expense of actual journalist verification, which should be a completely separate issue. A Twitter colleague, @randyholloway, noted that there should be different kinds of verified checkmarks for other use cases, such as media, government, celebrities, companies, and yes, paid verified users. I agree with this.
But if Twitter becomes a pay to play free-for-all to verification, then verification has no value. What do we do then? Well, I think we should consider creating a public database of existing verified — let’s call us the “pre-checked” so that if we decide to give the bird the heave-ho with a demand to retain verification with a hefty yearly fee, we can at least identify ourselves to each other in the future without Twitter interfering with us.
When it is released, will you “pay to play” for Twitter verification? Tell me below.