Image: Muhammed Selim Korkutata / Anadolu Agency
Almost nothing has gone according to plan since Elon Musk took control over Twitter last month—and whether there even is a plan seems doubtful. Case in point: Musk's flagship idea, an $8 paid-verification scheme, kicked off Wednesday night and immediately spiraled into complete disaster. Blue checks on Twitter are meant to designate that the person or organization behind the account has been authenticated by Twitter as being who they say they are. It's a necessary feature to stop impersonators from proliferating and emerged after a lawsuit early in Twitter's history. Musk's big idea since he took over Twitter has been to cast this blue check as some sort of status symbol, and even the playing field by letting anyone pay $8 for a badge. Many observers warned that this would let impersonators and scammers appear to be verified on Twitter—exactly the opposite of what the badge is supposed to do—and that is precisely what cropped up once the paid scheme started: A flood of impersonators.
For example, an account impersonating Nintendo got a verified badge and immediately posted an image of Mario giving the middle finger. While everyone rightly found this funny, it's also very bad for Twitter, which is bleeding advertisers and the revenue they once brought to the company before being scared off by Musk's antics. Valve, the company behind digital games storefront Steam, was also impersonated. Donald Trump, LeBron James, Rudy Giuliani, and many more were also impersonated, with verified badges next to the account names. Twitter has been playing Whac-A-Mole with suspending these verified impersonator accounts as they pop up. Musk framed this as a win for the company in a tweet, replying with bull’s-eye, cool sunglasses, and money bag emojis to a user explaining that this was brilliant, actually, because Twitter is taking $8 from impersonators and then banning their accounts, but keeping the money. Putting aside the fact that this is like saying it's actually good you shit your pants at school because you got to go home for the day, it's unclear how sporadically collecting $8 from impersonator accounts will plug the hole in Twitter's balance sheet. It is, however, effectively nuking the platform's reputation. The chaos is emblematic of Musk's flailing since he took over Twitter in a $44 billion sale that he was forced to follow through on by the threat of legal action after he tried to escape the deal. He has admitted that he both tried to get out of it and ultimately overpaid for the company. The result has been mass layoffs that axed critical teams, nonsensical features that are launched and immediately dropped (like the short-lived "official" verification badge), and absurd proposals like turning Twitter into something like a bank that will take users' deposits and invest with them, and return a yield. The current status quo is a confusing mess, with people who were already verified retaining their blue checks, and others—legit accounts and impersonators alike—buying their own badges. The only way to tell who’s who is by hovering over the verification badge, which reveals a pop-up explaining if the person paid for their badge or if they were organically verified by Twitter previously.