Twitter’s new, pro-free speech owner, Elon Musk, has reignited controversy and hilarity on the platform by removing the legacy verification status from celebrities and mainstream news outlets that refused to pay. Predictably, that led to pearl-clutching responses from celebrities.
Bette Midler, for instance, lost her mind over losing her blue check, for which she would just have to pay $8 a month, saying, “Elon, deciding that I’m not me, I’m a fake, & obliging ME, who has contributed mightily to your platform, (at least until you “tweaked the algorithm & tanked my metrics”) to pay monthly because you don’t have enough money & you’re humiliated b/c everyone thinks you’re a pathetic douche, is the funniest thing you’ve ever done. Let that sink in. Sorry to hear about your rocket.”
douche, is the funniest thing you’ve ever done. Let that sink in. Sorry to hear about your rocket.
— bettemidler (@BetteMidler) April 21, 2023
Woke actress Alyssa Milano joined in as well, saying, “So by revoking my blue check mark because I wouldn’t pay some arbitrary fee, someone can just be me and say a bunch of bullshit. Does that mean Twitter and @elonmusk are liable for defamation or identity theft or fraud?”
Further, Elon kept a few blue checks around to just mess with people and make it look like they had paid for Twitter Blue. For example, basketball player LeBron James, horror author Stephen King, and actor William Shatner are all still verified on Twitter, though none of them have paid for Twitter Blue.
King tweeted about that on Thursday, saying, “My Twitter account says I’ve subscribed to Twitter Blue. I haven’t. My Twitter account says I’ve given a phone number. I haven’t.” Elon replied by saying, “You’re welcome namaste.” He then, later, confirmed he had kept blue checks for “just Shatner, LeBron and King.”
And it wasn’t just leftist actors that refused to pay and suffered the consequences. The page belonging to the government of New York City refused to pay and so some enterprising Twitter user decided to impersonate it on Thursday.
Elon has used the $8 a month Twitter Blue to help the platform make money now that advertisers are launching an anti-free speech boycott of it. Tweeting about that boycott, Musk said, “Twitter has had a massive drop in revenue, due to activist groups pressuring advertisers, even though nothing has changed with content moderation and we did everything we could to appease the activist. Extremely messed up! They’re trying to destroy free speech in America.”
Musk has managed to cut costs at the platform with the goal of making it profitable as well, dismissing 6,500 of the 8,000 employees working for the platform when he bought it. As he focused on the engineers and other people with “hard” skills, the platform has stayed functional, if not improved in quality, despite the mass layoffs.
Further, Elon’s commitment to free speech has gone beyond mere lip service. For example, he recently announced a rule change that prevents suspensions for protected speech, with Twitter announcing:
Our mission at Twitter 2.0 is to promote and protect the public conversation. We believe Twitter users have the right to express their opinions and ideas without fear of censorship. We also believe it is our responsibility to keep users on our platform safe from content violating our Rules.
These beliefs are the foundation of Freedom of Speech, not Freedom of Reach – our enforcement philosophy which means, where appropriate, restricting the reach of Tweets that violate our policies by making the content less discoverable.
Today, we’re excited to share an update on our approach to policy enforcement that better aligns this philosophy with our commitment to transparency.
Restricting the reach of Tweets, also known as visibility filtering, is one of our existing enforcement actions that allows us to move beyond the binary “leave up versus take down” approach to content moderation. However, like other social platforms, we have not historically been transparent when we’ve taken this action. Starting soon, we will add publicly visible labels to Tweets identified as potentially violating our policies letting you know we’ve limited their visibility.
These labels bring a new level of transparency to enforcement actions by displaying which policy the Tweet potentially violates to both the Tweet author and other users on Twitter. Tweets with these labels will be made less discoverable on the platform. Additionally, we will not place ads adjacent to content that we label. You can learn more about the ways we may restrict a Tweet’s reach here.
Authors will be able to submit feedback on the label if they think we incorrectly limited their Tweet’s visibility. Currently, submitting feedback does not guarantee you will receive a response or that your Tweet’s reach will be restored. We are working on allowing authors to appeal our decision.
While these labels will initially only apply to a set of Tweets that potentially violate our Hateful Conduct policy, we plan to expand their application to other applicable policy areas in the coming months. This change is designed to result in enforcement actions that are more proportional and transparent for everyone on our platform. What remains unchanged is our commitment to keeping Twitter a safe place for conversation. We will continue to remove illegal content and suspend bad actors from our platform.
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