Over the last few weeks, we’ve been treated to many a surprising update about Musk’s vision for Twitter. From mass firings to what TechCrunch dubbed “half-baked product plans”, the internet has been abuzz with all the changes taking place on and around the platform.
But perhaps the most controversial update was the roll-out of the “Blue subscribers” feature, which allows regular accounts to pay $8 a month in return for a verified account and the coveted blue checkmark that comes along with it.
For those that aren’t sure why this might be a problematic feature, we’ll give a bit of background. You see, for years, earning a blue checkmark on Twitter meant that your account was deemed “active, notable, and authentic” by the platform.
It indicated that the account in question was the real deal — which is a fairly important thing for brands, celebrities, politicians, and other notable people and organizations on the platform.
So, when the new $8 verification badge for “Blue subscribers” went live, chaos ensued. With blue checkmarks now available for every day paying subscribers, the platform’s timeline was injected “with tweets that appear(ed) to be from official accounts”... but most definitely were not.
TechCrunch noted that, unfortunately, “Musk’s Twitter skeleton crew made no meaningful changes to the visual language of the blue check, so right now it signals that you’re either really who you say you are — @CocaCola, for instance — or you’re somebody random who just coughed up $8 and got a stamp of approval.”
Thus, for a certain amount of time, there was no way for people to distinguish between real accounts and parody accounts — and anyone could “impersonate someone else for $8 a month and see their content boosted algorithmically without any vetting.” It was, in short, absolute chaos with real-world implications.
Where Does Brand Safety Fit In?
Now that we’re all on the same page about the “Blue subscribers” situation, we can discuss what a blow it was to Twitter’s ability to realistically maintain brand safety.
Brand safety, which refers to the measures used to ensure that a brand’s reputation is not damaged when advertising or promoting itself, is extremely important in 2022. A brand’s image and reputation is carefully crafted and, often, represents years of research and hard work.
Understandably, brands want to ensure that their ads, visuals, and logos don’t appear in places that are at odds with their cultivated image — and they also go to great lengths to maintain their brand image on social media accounts.
So, when a troll with $8 to spare can create a new “verified” Coca-Cola account on Twitter that’s nearly indistinguishable from the authentic account, real and lasting damage can (and did) ensue.
Source: Business Insider
But Coca-Cola wasn’t the only brand that had its safety compromised thanks to Musk’s “Blue subscribers” feature. Brands like Lockheed Martin and Eli Lilly and Co. saw the real-world impact of parody accounts, with the former’s share prices having dropped about 5.5% and its capitalization having dropped by more than $7 billion.
The latter is also dealing with the fallout from a parody account’s actions, which tweeted “We are excited to announce insulin is free now.”
The Washington Post reported that the fake tweet “sparked a panic”. Consequently, “company officials scrambled to contact Twitter representatives and demanded they kill the viral spoof, worried it could undermine their brand’s reputation or push false claims about people’s medicine.”
Unsurprisingly, the tweet managed to accomplish both. According to Gizmodo, “the pharma company’s stock sank from $368 a share to $346 a share, which according to economic reports at the time—reportedly erased billions in market cap.” It also hurt the brand’s reputation, as it signaled an inability to control its own narrative.
Due to the chaos that ensued, Twitter revoked its paid verification features and postponed its debut until after the U.S. midterm elections. According to Business Insider, Twitter managers were even told to “ask laid-off engineers if they'd be interested in returning to the company to help with the relaunch of Twitter Blue.” Understandably, most were not.
To add to the madness, Twitter began rolling out grey checkmarks on November 9th, which appeared on profiles of politicians, famous athletes, news outlets, and more. But it didn’t last long, as Musk “killed” the feature and tweeted the following:
Please note that Twitter will do lots of dumb things in coming months.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 9, 2022
We will keep what works & change what doesn’t.
However, as of November 11th, Twitter’s “Blue subscribers” feature was rolled back in order to “help address impersonation issues”. Now, the future of Twitter is again quite unclear — but one thing’s for certain: it’s not a place that can guarantee brand safety any time soon.
Thus, brands will have to take the time to consider if remaining on the platform is worth risking their reputation and safety. Some big-name brands — like Balenciaga — have already abandoned the platform. Let’s see who follows.