Back in 2017, Twitter overhauled its policy about who could receive its blue check verification badge, after it was criticized for verifying white nationalist Jason Kessler, the organizer of the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
On Thursday, five years after he lost it, Kessler regained that blue check after signing up for Elon Musk’s new $8-a-month Twitter Blue subscription service.
And Kessler wasn’t alone. Richard Spencer, another well-known white nationalist, who like Kessler was found guilty of engaging in a conspiracy to commit racially motivated violence related to the Charlottesville rally, also received a blue check after signing up for Twitter Blue.
Kessler and Spencer were among almost a dozen extremist accounts that received a blue check within hours of the new feature opening up to everyone, according to data collected by media watchdog Media Matters for America.
But on Friday morning, it appears as if Elon Musk, Twitter’s new CEO, realized that maybe it wasn’t the best idea to give anyone with $8 to spare a blue check, a symbol that for most Twitter users still signifies some level of authority and authentication.
After what has been a chaotic few days of launching and quickly removing new features, Twitter on Friday without warning removed the blue checks from the profile pages of those who had signed up for Twitter Blue in recent days, but only on Twitter’s official smartphone apps. On Twitter’s web interface, the blue check marks still appeared at the time of publication.
Twitter had only rolled out its updated Twitter Blue feature on Wednesday, and almost instantly the results were disastrous, ranging from a verified Jesus Christ account to someone impersonating Nintendo getting a verified badge and immediately posting an image of Mario giving the middle finger. There was also an account impersonating LeBron James claiming he was requesting a trade, two fake Eli Lilly accounts saying the pharma giant would be giving out free insulin, and several accounts vying to trick people into thinking they were the Pope.
Musk said in a Thursday night tweet night that accounts impersonating public figures or brands would have their blue check mark revoked, even if they had paid for Twitter Blue, but there has been no official notification about exactly how or when this will be implemented.
On Friday morning, the Twitter Blue option was completely removed from the Twitter app in markets where it had been available.
Many of the extremist accounts that had taken the opportunity to pay for a blue check have previously been banned or suspended by Twitter for inciting violence or spreading hate speech.
One such account was LibsofTikTok, the online persona of Brooklyn real estate agent Chaya Raichik, who has been at the forefront of the right’s anti-LGBTQ campaigns targeting schools, hospitals, and libraries for hosting drag shows for kids and providing gender-affirming care.
Despite the account being suspended on at least 8 occasions, Raichik announced on Thursday that she had signed up for a blue check.
“I was suspended 8 times and now I’m here and verified,” Raichik tweeted. “This $8 investment which infuriates the libs continues to be a source of great satisfaction.”
Also signing up for Twitter Blue to get their blue check were Blake Kresses and Gabriel Victal, hosts of a far-right YouTube show that has featured Kai Schwemmer, a known associate of white nationalist Nick Fuentes.
MAGA rapper Bryson Gray, who has voiced his support for Fuentes’ America First movement on Twitter, also signed up. Another far-right personality who has voiced support for Fuentes is Jack Francis, whose Red Eagle Politics account received verified account status, despite having previously used the platform to express support for the America First movement.
Fuentes himself remains banned from the platform, but after Musk took control of Twitter last month Fuentes used an anonymous account to stream his show on Twitter and call for his account to be reinstated. His new account was subsequently banned.
In a Wednesday Twitter Spaces meeting designed to reassure advertisers who are abandoning his platform in droves, Musk claimed that ads will not appear next to hate speech.
“The propensity of someone to engage in hate speech if they have paid $8 and are risking the suspension of their account is going to be far, far less,” Musk said, according to a Media Matters report, without providing evidence to back up his claim.
VICE News sent a request for comment to Twitter, but given that the company’s 100-strong communications team has now been reportedly whittled down to just one person, we do not expect a response any time soon.
Musk’s response to the Twitter Blue disaster:
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