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21 April 2023

Farewell, blue tick

Strangely, I am still breathing without it.

By James Ball

It is difficult to remember sometimes, but on its best days Twitter could truly be magical. The day half the internet exploded because of The Dress and two escaped llamas, or when much of the UK tracked Priti Patel on a flight back to the UK to get sacked. There was even a day when people across the UK got diverted by nothing more dramatic than looking at a really big puddle in Scotland that everyone was tweeting live footage from. It was a simpler, better time.

Yesterday offered a rare glimpse of that beauty and wonder once again, even if it came at a huge psychological cost to some of the biggest egos online: yesterday was the day that “legacy” verified accounts lost their blue ticks. At around 6pm yesterday, I opened the Twitter app to discover my blue tick, a stalwart companion, source of reassurance, symbol of hope and trust, and ticket to a million VIP rooms across the world (this one is a lie, but from the way people talk about them you’d think otherwise), was gone.

There was something amusing about @pontifex, the official account of, you know, the actual Pope, being blue tick-less. And then it became surreal – Malala, Bill Gates and Donald Trump all lost theirs too. The brand safety and misinformation problems of the new system became absolutely clear. For the average user, it was became less obvious who to trust – on first glance, without the blue tick, every account looks the same. A fake New York City government account popped up, claiming authenticity until it was suspended.

There was even beauty in the moment of the Great Detickening. For a magical hour, people’s ticks disappeared, reappeared, and vanished again – twinkling like stars in their final moments, all the while making us wonder whether Schrödinger’s Verification was the latest of Elon Musk’s masterplans.

[See also: What does the end of Twitter mean for news media?]

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But then shockingly, for me, since losing it… it’s as if almost nothing has changed. The sky is still as blue, sunlight is still dappled by the leaves of spring sunshine, and even my @ mentions look like they did before, telling me that I’m not half as funny as I’d like to think I am.

I had the particular delight of this first gasp of post-tick life while at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia – a gathering of what feels like about half the world’s terminally online journalists. This led to a delightful early evening party game of greeting every journalist one encountered with “your blue tick is gone”! Inevitably, there would be some shout of shock, followed by a frenetic grab towards their phone to check it was really gone. And then, every time, the phone would slip back in the pocket and they’d ask who was going to the bar. 

The mythos of the blue tick was always what gave it any cachet, or any fun – and any mythos that clung to it rubbed off when Musk started selling them for $8 a month. This is surely indicated by the fact the NBA player LeBron James, who stated he wouldn’t pay for a blue tick, was then eager to clarify that the blue tick he’d been given was complimentary from Musk. Blue ticks have lost their social status – they might even be perceived as damaging.

The brand safety and misinformation problems of the new system are absolutely clear – there’s a reason Twitter invented verification in the first place – but those are problems for Musk, especially if he wants anyone to advertise on his site again. It is hard to justify his paying for a blue tick for William Shatner and Stephen King, but not, say… Malala, or the aforementioned actual Pope.

Still, those are all Musk’s problems, not mine. Turns out, I actually don’t give a tick.

[See also: Can Linda Yaccarino save Twitter?]

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