Twitter’s blue ticks start vanishing

Published April 21, 2023
This before-and-after profile snapshot of PTI Chairman Imran Khan shows the blue tick next to his name in the first image. However, in the second image, the blue tick is no longer present as Twitter has removed it from profiles that have not subscribed to Twitter Blue. — Pictures via Twitter and Wayback Machine
This before-and-after profile snapshot of PTI Chairman Imran Khan shows the blue tick next to his name in the first image. However, in the second image, the blue tick is no longer present as Twitter has removed it from profiles that have not subscribed to Twitter Blue. — Pictures via Twitter and Wayback Machine

Twitter began the mass removal of its blue ticks on Thursday, as the symbol previously used to signify a verified account vanished from users including the Pope, Donald Trump and Justin Bieber.

Owner Elon Musk, who has seen his $44 billion investment in the site shrivel, earlier pledged to get rid of what he described as a “lords & peasants system.”

He offered instead to sell the blue badge to anyone who would pay $8 a month, in a move he said last year would “democratise journalism & empower the voice of the people.”

Earlier dates set for the rollback of the ticks — predominately used by celebrities, journalists, and politicians — have slipped by without noticeable action.

But on Thursday high-profile accounts, as well as those of many reporters at AFP and other news organisations, appeared to have had the checkmarks removed. In Pakistan, Dawn.com, Geo News Urdu, and other media organisations lost their verified status. A number of well-known anchors and reporters were also among them.

  Imran Khan’s Twitter account without its blue tick.
Imran Khan’s Twitter account without its blue tick.

Politicians and official bodies also appeared to have been hit. As of Friday, in Pakistan, popular accounts like PTI chairman Imran Khan’s, with 19.1m followers, lost their blue tick. PTI’s official account, however, retained it.

PML-N Quaid Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam and PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari were also among those who lost their verified status.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, however, retained his status with a grey check — which is for accounts that are linked to government organisations.

US Senator Brian Schatz objected to the possible effect on public confidence in the event of disasters.

“There really ought to be a way for emergency managers to verify that they are real on this website or imposters will cause suffering and death,” he tweeted.

“I am not complaining about my own check mark, I just think during natural disasters it’s essential to know that FEMA is actually FEMA,” he wrote, referring to the Federal Emergency Management Agency that steps in after hurricanes and deadly storms.

Thursday’s removals follow spats between Twitter and various news organisations that have objected to labels appended to their accounts indicating they were “state-affiliated” or “government funded.”

Sweden’s public radio Sveriges Radio said this week it would stop tweeting, following in the footsteps of US radio station NPR and Canadian broadcaster CBC.

Musk’s tumultuous ownership of Twitter has seen thousands of staff made redundant and advertisers fleeing the platform.

Users complain that hate speech and misinformation has proliferated and accounts with extreme views are gaining traction due to less content moderation.

This month, a closely watched forecast said Twitter’s income from advertising will fall by a large margin in 2023.

Analysts at Insider Intelligence said they were slashing an earlier worldwide revenue estimate of $4.74 billion by more than a third to $2.98bn as trust deteriorates.

According to research firm Pathmatics, 14 of the top 30 advertisers on Twitter stopped advertising on the platform since Musk took charge on Oct 27.

Insider Intelligence noted that Musk’s efforts to build up a subscription service “won’t make up for the lost ad revenue”.

Twitter drops ‘state-affiliated’ tags

Moreover, Twitter has dropped “state-affiliated” and “government-funded” labels from media accounts, according to a review by AFP on Friday of many high-profile pages on the platform.

Many major media outlets from Western nations, Russia, China and other countries that previously had either of those tags no longer displayed them, according to AFP.

They included the accounts of National Public Radio in the United States, China’s official Xinhua news agency, RT from Russia, and Canada’s CBC, as of 6am GMT.

Twitter, acquired by the mercurial billionaire Elon Musk last year, had long labelled accounts linked to state media or government officials, especially from China and Russia.

It said that policy focused on entities that “are the official voice of the nation-state abroad”.

Recently, however, the labels were applied to news organisations that received public funding but were not controlled by any governments.

Radio New Zealand also threatened to leave Twitter this week over the “government-funded” label, while Sweden’s public Sveriges Radio said it would stop tweeting. But all the tags were gone as of Friday.

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