On Sunday, Twitter removed the “verified” badge from the New York Times’ main account on the orders of the Chief Executive Officer of Tesla, Elon Musk. The Washington Post reported that Musk made the move overnight after learning that the news organization would not pay for its Twitter Blue service.
The decision to remove the verified badge was reportedly based on Musk’s years-long animosity towards United States journalists who have reported critically on him, and it will increase the risks of impersonation. Additionally, it opposes an internal plan, first reported by the Times on Thursday, to keep the badges on for the 10,000 most-followed organizations, regardless of whether they paid.
Twitter had previously disclosed that it would begin winding down its traditional verification package starting Saturday. The microblogging company would achieve this by removing the blue checkmark icons it had for years applied to the accounts of verified companies, journalists, and public figures. In its place, Twitter is implementing a pay-for-play system that would give the badge to anyone who pays for it. This move is seen as a way to help Twitter make up for its plunging advertising revenue and billions of dollars in debt. Twitter Blue will cost users about $8 a month, while businesses wanting verification will be charged $1,000 a month.
By Sunday morning, the Times, Twitter’s 24th-most-followed account, with more than 54 million followers, was one of only a few dozen accounts to have actually seen its badge removed. This move appears to have been personally directed or encouraged by Musk, who had responded late Saturday night to a meme outlining the Times’ decision to not pay for Twitter verification by saying, “Oh ok, we’ll take it off then.”
The move by Musk is likely to stir controversy and raise questions about the ethics of social media companies selling verification badges to those who can afford them. It also highlights the tensions that exist between powerful individuals and media organizations. While the New York Times has stated that it has no plans to pay for the monthly fee for checkmark status for its institutional Twitter accounts, it remains to be seen how other organizations will respond to Twitter’s new pay-for-play system.