On Monday morning, the hashtag #BlockTheBlue was trending on Twitter – at least before the news broke of Tucker Carlson’s ouster at Fox News. It would be easy to think it was political, aimed at so-called blue states or perhaps directed at the police.
It was neither, and instead, it called for celebrities and others who lost their coveted legacy blue check marks on Twitter to block those who are paying for Twitter Blue. Reports of many high-profile Twitter users blocking such subscribers actually began late last week.
According to data independent researcher Travis Brown, there are now about 630,000 subscribers to Twitter Blue. Brown, a developer who subscribes to access the paywalled Twitter API, shared the numbers on Friday and found that of the 407,000 “legacy” verified accounts that were active at the start of the month, only 28 subscribed to Twitter Blue to keep their blue checkmark.
Clearly, the majority of legacy users are refusing to pay up – and they’re fighting back as well.
The campaign to #BlockTheBlue has come from high-profile users such as @dril, who has 1.76 million followers on the platform. He isn’t just trying to disrupt Twitter, he’s out to wreck it.
“I am actively rooting for the downfall of twitter,” @dril told Mashable’s Matt Binder. “I hope to sabotage their efforts to become profitable, no matter how futile, in the hopes that they will eventually close up shop and release us all from this toilet.”
Will Celebrities And Other BlockTheBlue?
The question is whether such an effort to BlockTheBlue – as in the service’s subscribers – could actually work. Yet, the bigger question was whether Elon Musk, who took control of the company last year when he acquired it for $44 billion, ever really thought people would pay to be verified.
“Since Musk took over Twitter, we’ve seen an endless firestorm of controversy,” said Jason Mollica, professorial lecturer in the School of Communication at American University.
“This follows his labeling outlets like the Canadian Broadcast Corporation and NPR as ‘state-run media,'” Mollica added. “This was an attempt to monetize the coveted blue check mark, and I can understand why many people are now up in arms. It used to be that you were a legitimate person and regardless of what you said or posted, the legacy system was about proving you were that person. Now it is little more than a vanity license plate.”
Mollica added that he doesn’t mean to disparage anyone – whether they subscribe to Twitter Blue or have a vanity license plate – but simply wanted to point out that he can also understand why some people are purchasing the check mark to build their brand.
“I also think that many people who are paying for it simply want to be the loudest person in the room, and have their tweets show up higher in the feed,” he noted.
A Failed Monetization Effort?
Even if it is akin to a vanity license plate, or is now a platform for those who want their voice amplified, the fact remains that there might not be enough of those people for this to be a successful business model.
“Twitter has been challenged to keep up with one, the ever-changing social media market; and two the whims of its erratic boss,” explained Susan Campbell, distinguished lecturer in the Department of Communication, Film, and Media Studies at the University of New Haven.
“This whole blue check fiasco has laid bare algorithm/business issues that should be ironed out before – all due respect – any more dead people are granted verification. What’s it say about a business model when Kobe Bryant gets a blue check,” Campbell pondered.
Musk likely assumed celebrities and organizations would pay for verification status, and perhaps that was true of Twitter a few years ago, and certainly, before he acquired it, suggested Campell.
“Even wealthy celebrities can find something else to do with their $8 a month, and when not having a blue check is something Twitter users go on Twitter, itself, to trumpet, you have a problem,” she added.
Evolution of Twitter
Perhaps Musk is genuinely surprised that the removal of legacy accounts is being met with such a backlash, but for months, celebrities and other persons of note have been vocal that they wouldn’t pay for the account.
However, this further takes Twitter away from its roots.
“We have to remember that Twitter is considered a social network, but it was originally created as a microblog, where you could write short-form posts that encourage readers to go deeper off of Twitter,” said Mollica. “Now it has evolved with the sharing of videos and images.”
At the same time, it has evolved into a broadcast tool for those who previously may not have had any way to share their message with the world so easily. But that in turn has allowed for the proliferation of misinformation and with it disinformation.
“Unfortunately now people can use Twitter for nefarious purposes, and we should be rightfully concerned that people can capitalize on it by buying the blue check mark,” added Mollica.
The fact that celebrities, and other high-profile users, could join the movement to block anyone who has a blue checkmark would only serve to ruin any perceived value from those accounts. This certainly makes this seem all the more like the Dr. Seuess story “The Sneetches,” where those without green stars were able pay for the privilege – only for the stars to then lose their special status.
In that cautionary tale, the sneetches were left broke but not broken. Musk’s efforts to monetize legitimacy on the platform could backfire far more spectacularly.
“Will Twitter go away from this latest move by Musk? Probably not,” said Mollica. “But Musk hasn’t done the service any favors.”