September 24, 2023

Elon Musk is taking another stab at verifying Twitter accounts, the social media company’s new owner announced on Friday.

The revamped check system is the latest change the billionaire Tesla CEO has made to Twitter as he overhauls its policies and practices after buying the platform last month for $44 billion.

“Sorry for the delay, we’re tentatively launching Verified on Friday next week,” Musk said on Twitter. “Gold check for companies, grey check for government, blue for individuals (celebrity or not) and all verified accounts will be manually authenticated before check activates. Painful, but necessary.”

Musk noted that all individual Twitter accounts will have the same blue check mark, without differentiating between celebrity users and ordinary individuals who may share a name with a famous person.

“All verified individual humans will have same blue check, as boundary of what constitutes ‘notable’ is otherwise too subjective,” he said. Musk added that some people can get a “secondary tiny logo” showing they belong to an organization provided the entity confirms it.

Musk reiterated that accounts impersonating others would be banned. Beyond that, however, it appears to be up to viewers to distinguish between different types of “verified” accounts.

“Organizational affiliation, bio and follower count distinguish between people who genuinely have the exact same name,” he said.

Second stab at verification

This is Musk’s second attempt at overhauling Twitter’s verification system. A previous plan to give blue checks to any account paying $8 a month was abruptly scrapped hours after rollout because of a wave of imposter accounts mocking corporations including Eli Lilly, Nintendo, Lockheed Martin and even Musk’s own businesses, Tesla and SpaceX, as well as professional athletes. 

Originally, the blue check was reserved for government entities, corporations, celebrities and journalists verified by the platform.

Already, however, some users are pointing out potential flaws in Musk’s latest plan. Technology researcher Jane Manchun Wong noted that color-blind users would not be able to distinguish between different check-mark colors.

Earlier this week, Musk reinstated a wave of formerly suspended accounts, including conservative firebrands Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Jordan Peterson, Andrew Tate and former President Donald Trump.

On Thursday Musk announced he would bring back formerly banned accounts that “have not broken the law or engaged in egregious spam” after a poll he posted asking about a “general amnesty” for such accounts came back with 72% of responses in favor.

Zach Meyers, senior research fellow at the Centre for European Reform think tank, said giving blanket amnesty based on an online poll is an “arbitrary approach” that’s “hard to reconcile with the Digital Services Act,” a new EU law that will start applying to the biggest online platforms by mid-2023.

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The law is aimed at protecting internet users from illegal content and reducing the spread of harmful but legal content. It requires big social media platforms to be “diligent and objective” in enforcing restrictions, which must be spelled out clearly in the fine print for users when signing up, Meyers said. Britain also is working on its own online safety law.

Individually verifying human users could also take a long time. Since taking over, Musk has laid off half of the company’s 7,500-person workforce along with an untold number of contractors responsible for content moderation. Many others have resigned, including the company’s head of trust and safety.

Didier Reynders, the EU’s commissioner for justice, tweeted that that company’s recent layoffs, as well as a recent report showing the platform had lagged on takedowns of hate speech this spring, were “a source of concern.”

In a meeting with Twitter executives, Reynders said he “underlined that we expect Twitter to deliver on their voluntary commitments and comply with EU rules,” including the Digital Services Act and the bloc’s strict privacy regulations known as General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR.

The Associated Press contributed reporting.

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