On October 28, Elon Musk officially acquired Twitter for approximately 44 billion dollars. Musk had first proposed to buy the site in April, but resistance from the Twitter board of trustees ultimately delayed the deal by several months. After only a few weeks of ownership, Musk has made sweeping changes to moderation, the internal working of the company, and, arguably with the most impact, the verification policy.

Twitter is a social media site based on short posts using less than 280 characters. It is free to use with advertisements and is used for networking by small content creators as well as massive corporations.

 When Musk first proposed to buy Twitter, he said, “I also want to make Twitter better than ever by enhancing the product with new features, making the algorithms open source to increase trust, defeating the spam bots, and authenticating all humans.” This initial statement showed that Musk understood the gravity of one of Twitter’s most pressing issues: its struggle with misinformation. Like everywhere else online, Twitter users can share fake news or try to masquerade as celebrities. This is mostly harmless if Twitter has a reliable way to separate fact from fiction. One of Musk’s first changes to the platform, however, was to remove the verification system, which was Twitter’s core defense against misinformation.

Until recently, Twitter would award blue verification badges to accounts they considered  authentic, active, and important. This system was imperfect, but it still allowed Twitter users to tell the difference between a celebrity’s real account and a convincing fake. 

After gaining control, Musk made the decision to change the verification system to a subscription service. This change was highly controversial. August Sengupta ’24 explained,  “I think the new verification system defeats the purpose of a verification system. The old one was a way to tell real accounts from fake ones, and now that the system is a pay-to-play it creates more room for misinformation. People can easily impersonate celebrities and politicians now.” The phrase “pay-to-play” refers to an online phenomenon where services advertise themselves as free, only to reveal later on that users face a disadvantage unless they pay money. Evidence for August’s belief can be found in the many blue-checkmarked impersonators that have sprung up over the past few weeks. Most of these fakes are easy to spot or clearly satire, but paying users do have a new advantage in this information war. Musk has stated that Twitter will permanently suspend any accounts caught impersonating celebrities, but identifying and eliminating these profiles is an extremely daunting task.  

Musk’s changes have also been quite inconsistent and unpredictable. On October 30, he stated that the cost of a blue Twitter checkmark would be 20 dollars. A day later, he suggested a price of 8 dollars. Musk then proposed a second plan to mark real accounts with gray checkmarks that could not be purchased, but he canceled this new project mere hours after it was launched. “Please note that Twitter will do lots of dumb things in coming months. We will keep what works & change what doesn’t,” Musk tweeted on November 9. As of November 22, the verification system has been delayed indefinitely. More changes may come. In an ironic twist, it is now as difficult to find out the truth about Twitter’s behind-the-scenes as it is to tell who is being truthful on the site.