Twitter Inc halted its recently announced $8 blue tick subscription service on Friday as fake accounts exploded, with new owner Elon Musk returning the “official” badge to some users of the social media platform.
The coveted blue checkmark was previously reserved for verified accounts of politicians, famous personalities, journalists, and other public figures. But a subscription option, open to anyone willing to pay, was launched earlier this week to help Twitter boost revenue as Musk struggles to retain advertisers.
The flip-flop is part of two chaotic weeks on Twitter since Musk completed his $44 billion acquisition. Musk has fired nearly half of Twitter’s workforce, ousted his board and top executives and raised the possibility of Twitter going bankrupt. The US Federal Trade Commission said Thursday that he was watching Twitter with “deep concern.”
Several users reported on Friday that the new subscription option for the blue check mark had disappeared, while a source told Reuters that the offer had been removed.
Twitter did not respond to a request for comment.
Fake accounts purporting to be big brands have popped up with the blue check since the new launch, including Musk’s Tesla and SpaceX, as well as Roblox, Nestle, pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly and Lockheed Martin.
“To combat phishing, we’ve added an ‘Official’ tag to some accounts,” Twitter’s support account, which has the “official” tag, tweeted Friday.
The tag was originally introduced on Wednesday, but Musk “removed” it just hours later.
drug manufacturer Eli Lilly and Co issued an apology after a fake account tweeted that insulin would be free, amid a political backlash and scrutiny of high drug prices.
“We apologize to those who received a misleading message from a fake Lilly account,” the company said, reiterating the name of its Twitter account.
Several misleading tweets about Tesla from a verified account with the same profile picture as the company’s official account were also circulating on the platform.
“Twitter, in recent years, has worked to try to improve that [misinformation]. And it looks like Elon Musk has figured it out in a matter of weeks,” said AJ Bauer, a professor at the University of Alabama.
Musk had said that Twitter users who engaged in phishing without clearly specifying it as a “parody” account would be permanently suspended without warning. Several fake brand accounts have been suspended, including those of Nintendo and BP.
On Thursday, in his first company-wide email, Musk warned that Twitter might not “survive the next economic downturn” if it failed to grow subscription revenue to offset falling ad revenue, three people told Reuters. who saw the message.
‘Who buys chaos’
Many companies, including General Motors and United Airlines, have paused or withdrawn from advertising on the platform since Musk took over. In response, the billionaire said Wednesday that his goal was to turn Twitter into a force for truth and stop fake accounts.
Twitter relies heavily on ads and about 90 percent of its revenue comes from advertisers. But every change Musk is making, or rolling back, makes the site less attractive to big brands.
“It’s turned into chaos,” said Richard Levick, CEO of the public relations firm Levick. “Who buys chaos?”
A bigger problem for Musk could be the risk to his reputation as a model tech executive, as implementation of different types of checks and other changes have been bogged down, Levick added.
“It’s another example of something not being very well thought out, and that’s what happens when you rush,” Levick said. “Musk has been known as a trusted visionary and magician. He can’t lose that nickname, and that’s what’s at stake right now.”
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