Elon Musk’s Twitter Relaunches Blue Badge, Fires Advisory Group

Twitter

TwitterElon Musk relaunched a Twitter subscription service after an embarrassing wave of fake accounts scared advertisers and cast doubt on the site’s future. Last month’s attempt came just ten days after Musk’s $44 billion takeover of the platform and a massive round of layoffs that saw company staff levels halved, including teams of workers moderating content.

The relaunch of Twitter Blue in a few countries, including the US, comes as Elon Musk has increased his tweets endorsing right-wing causes, such as opposition to the use of gender-neutral pronouns and the US government’s response to Covid-19. The subscription service costs $8 per month for users who access Twitter via the web and $11 for those who sign up via an Apple device. When many fake accounts appeared pretending to be celebrities or companies during the initial rollout of Twitter Blue, Musk’s team was forced to pull the plug on the scheme.

This time, the company beefed up its verification process with a Twitter-mandated review before receiving the coveted blue mark. A blue checkmark on an account, indicating that it has been verified by Twitter, was previously free but reserved for organizations and public figures to avoid impersonation and misinformation. The relaunch coincided with reports that Musk had disbanded Twitter’s Trust and Safety Council, a six-year-old body that allows the company to consult with global experts on hate speech, child safety, civil rights, and other sensitive issues. According to copies of an email sent to council members, Twitter is rethinking how it incorporates “external insights” into its work and has determined that the council is “not the best structure to do this.” Some Trust and Safety Council members had already resigned in protest, claiming that with Musk in charge, the well-being of Twitter users was deteriorating.

Since his takeover, content moderation has been a major headache for Musk, who has described himself as a free-speech absolutist and vowed to let people tweet whatever they want as long as they follow the law. However, the billionaire’s commitment to free speech has scared off major advertisers and drawn the attention of regulators. Musk believes that previous Twitter ownership had a strong leftist and pro-LGBTQ bias and unfairly banned accounts, including former US President Donald Trump lashed out at Anthony Fauci, the outgoing key advisor for the US response to the Covid-19 pandemic and a frequent target of right-wing media vitriol. “My pronouns are Prosecute/Fauci,” Musk quipped, mocking the growing practice of people indicating their preferred gender pronouns.

A trending tweet in response to Musk’s call for people to change their pronouns to Boycott/Tesla was trending on Twitter. The White House called Musk’s tweets against Fauci “disgusting” and “divorced from reality.” “These personal attacks that we are seeing are extremely dangerous,” said White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre. Twitter’s former head of trust and safety had fled his home following baseless Twitter attacks endorsed by Musk. Yoel Roth, who left the company in November, has faced threats since Musk released internal documents that feed into unsubstantiated theories about collusion by some within Twitter.

When Musk endorsed a tweet accusing Roth of being a pedophilia apologist, a common trope used by conspiracy theorists to target opponents. In politically liberal San Francisco, where Twitter is headquartered, the South African-born billionaire’s embrace of right-wing talking points appeared to draw increasing scorn. Musk was booed by a crowd in the city late Sunday after comedian Dave Chappelle invited him on stage. “It’s almost as if I offended San Francisco’s insane leftists… but nahhh,” Musk tweeted following the event. Carolina Milanesi, a Creative Strategies tech analyst, warned that Musk’s political shift on Twitter could be problematic for the company in the future.