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Elon Musk relaunches Twitter Blue, the subscription that includes checkmarks

Twitter headquarters is shown in San Francisco on Nov. 4, 2022.
Jeff Chiu
/
AP
Twitter headquarters is shown in San Francisco on Nov. 4, 2022.

Updated December 12, 2022 at 10:08 PM ET

Twitter relaunched its Twitter Blue subscription service on Monday, where users can pay a monthly fee for a blue checkmark, along with the ability to edit tweets and upload high-quality video.

The company said most new features would be immediately available to subscribers, but when an NPR reporter tried it early Monday afternoon, most features were not available.

There appeared to be other hiccups, too. People attempting to subscribe on Twitter's website were being directed to sign up through Twitter's app for Apple devices — where the program costs more. Later on Monday, the subscription was available through Twitter's website.

Hours after the relaunch, Twitter disbanded its Trust and Safety Council, exacerbating concerns about new owner Elon Musk's approach to protecting the platform's users.

The outside group of civil rights and human rights organizations, which advises Twitter on issues from hate speech and child exploitation to mental health and suicide prevention, was scheduled to meet on Monday with Twitter executives, including the company's new head of trust and safety. But less than an hour before, they received an email announcing the council's dissolution, according to several council members who requested anonymity because of concerns of retaliation.

"As Twitter moves into a new phase, we are reevaluating how best to bring external insights into our product and policy development work. As part of this process, we have decided that the Trust and Safety Council is not the best structure to do this," the email, signed by "Twitter," said.

These moves are the latest by Musk away from policies and procedures the company has spent years developing to curb problems on the platform, from harassment and abuse to spam.

Twitter Blue more expensive on Apple devices

Twitter is charging $11 a month for subscriptions purchased on iPhones and iPads, compared with $8 a month through Twitter's website. Apple generally levies a 30% commission on in-app transactions processed through Apple's App Store, which, it appears, Twitter is passing on to subscribers.

The company has not explained the price difference. But Twitter owner Elon Musk had leveled sharp words at Apple over its so-called "Apple tax," a longtime pain point for app developers and cause of concern for regulators around the world who have viewed the fee as excessive and financially damaging to Apple's rivals.

Musk has since claimed his row with Apple was resolved following a meeting with the company's chief executive, Tim Cook, at Apple's Cupertino headquarters.

Gold and gray checkmarks added to blue

Twitter has introduced a color-coded system for people, companies and governments: Gold is for companies; gray for governments and blue for individuals. The gray marks will be available later this week, Twitter said in a tweet.

Rather than simply giving blue checkmarks to all individual subscribers, Twitter says there is a process, or as Twitter project manager Esther Crawford put it in a tweet this past weekend, "a review step before applying a blue checkmark to an account as one of our new steps to combat impersonation."

This is an about-face for the company. Before Musk bought Twitter in October, the blue checkmarks signified that the company had verified a user's identity.

When Musk first attempted to include the blue checkmarks as part of the subscription, Twitter was flooded with fake accounts. Advertisers, politicians and even Musk himself were impersonated. The chaos forced the billionaire to put the service on pause after just two days.

Twitter acknowledges the confusion on its help page: "Now the blue checkmark may mean two different things: either that an account was verified under the previous verification criteria (active and authentic), or that the account has an active subscription to Twitter Blue."

When Musk first conceived of the plan to let people buy the once-coveted and restricted blue checkmarks, he was met with internal resistance from Twitter's trust and safety experts. They feared the move would be weaponized by those looking to spread disinformation, including repressive regimes hoping to disseminate propaganda.

Musk ignored them. Twitter's Trust and Safety team, like others at the company, had been gutted through layoffs and resignations. The dissolution of the advisory council on Monday represented a further step away from the rules and policies that the company had used before Musk's takeover in October.

Musk views Twitter Blue as part of his mission to make money on the platform in ways other than advertising, which accounts for about 90% of Twitter's revenue. But since Musk's chaotic reign began in late October, major advertisers have been fleeing in droves.

Twitter has long struggled to grow its service the way larger competitors like Facebook, Instagram and TikTok have and, even before Musk took over, the company's advertising business had been far from robust.

Musk has floated bankruptcy as a possible option for Twitter.

Twitter: Users temporarily lose check when profile is changed

Musk has said before an account can receive a checkmark, it will be manually verified, though he has not fully explained how the process would work.

Twitter has spelled out some new criteria for Twitter Blue, including having an account older than 90 days and having a phone number that the company can confirm.

In addition, the company says if a subscriber changes their handle, display name, or photo, they will temporary lose their checkmark until the profile authenticity is confirmed.

Musk on Monday tweeted that everyone who previously received a verified blue check would "in a few months" be stripped of it, writing: "The way in which they were given out was corrupt and nonsensical."

Twitter has not answered questions about whether it still has the resources to take on such a daunting task after laying off more than half of the company's staff.

"With a reduced workforce, it remains to be seen if it will be possible to prevent fraud, impersonation and scams with their new identity verification methodology," Rachel Tobac, the CEO of the cybersecurity firm SocialProof Security, previously told NPR. "Scammers will quickly determine how they can overwhelm or manipulate the identity verification system to get 'authenticated' as an entity that they are not."

Twitter, which no longer has a communications staff, did not respond to a request for comment.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflect the fact that Twitter Blue has been launched.

NPR's Shannon Bond contributed to this report. contributed to this story

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Bobby Allyn is a business reporter at NPR based in San Francisco. He covers technology and how Silicon Valley's largest companies are transforming how we live and reshaping society.
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