On Friday afternoon, the White House staff received an internal memo from the Digital Strategy clarifying the federal institution’s policy with regards to the new blue checkmark payments. In a move mimicked by dozens of major media and corporate giants over the past week, the Oval Office clarified that it will not reimburse employees for the $8/month now required by Elon Musk’s Twitter for a verification mark.
Last weekend, the new Twitter administration under Elon Musk announced the imminent culmination of one of its most controversial changes to the platform; it was confirmed that all 420,000 ‘legacy’ verification checkmarks will be abruptly removed on April 1. As part of Musk’s strained efforts to reduce the platform’s reliance on advertising revenue, individual users will be required to pay $8 per month for the iconic ‘blue checkmark’, while business organizations are expected to pay a staggering $1,000 per month, in addition to $50 for each affiliated official account. The move will allow the verification of mark for any user willing to afford the new policy, essentially converting the ‘Twitter Blue’ into little more than an indicator for a paid account.
The outrage over this ludicrous change of face has turned into a full-fledged protest movement at all levels of public life. On Thursday, The New York Times publicly announced that the group is “Not planning to pay the monthly fee for check mark status for our institutional [and reporter] Twitter accounts … except in rare instances.” Sara Yasin, the managing editor of the Los Angeles Times explained a similar decision by the organization on the basis that: “First of all, verification no longer establishes authority or credibility, instead it will only mean that someone has paid for a Twitter Blue subscription.” The CNN chief digital officer also clarified the outlet’s position of reimbursing only “A small number of select teams who need this verification as an essential part of newsgathering and reporting.”
The same sentiment was echoed by dozens of other major media outlets, including The Washington Post, BuzzFeed, HuffPost, Vox Media, and POLITICO. Hundreds of entertainment, business, and political celebrities have also refused to buy the new subscription. This group includes figures such as Lebron James, Beyoncé, Barack and Michelle Obama, Drake, Stephen King, Taylor Swift, Tucker Carlson, and William Shatner. Notably, Monica Lewinsky posted a screenshot of some of her impostors, asking: “what universe is this fair to people who can suffer consequences for being impersonated? a lie travels half way around the world before truth even gets out the door.”
In a move that could set the precedent for other federal and state government agencies, the White House also firmly declined to support the new policy. The White House Director of Digital Strategy Rob Flaherty sent a brief but unambiguous email to staffers Friday. The memo, which was first acquired by Axios, reads as follows: “It is our understanding that Twitter Blue does not provide person-level verification as a service. Thus, a blue check mark will now simply serve as a verification that the account is a paid user.”
In a long Twitter thread on the subject, the former head of Twitter Media team Nathan C. Hubbard explained his own decision to give up the verification. He observed that ‘almost all’ engagement on the platform is concentrated on the few verified official accounts of individuals and organizations ranging from government figures to sports and music. The primary reason the platform was trusted for this type of official work was because the robust verification of Twitter prevented personification and misinformation. He observed that Mr. Musk’s decision reversed a vital policy and imperiled the platform’s future. However, Hubbard ended the thread by expressing hope about the ‘resilience and perseverance’ of the online community in face of evident policy mishaps.