In 2009, manager of the St. Louis Cardinals Tony La Russa (he/him) sued Twitter for letting an account impersonate him on their site. This resulted in the verification system Twitter used to create a more transparent platform. The recent acquisition of Twitter by billionaire Elon Musk (he/him) has changed this system and thrown the site into chaos, to the dismay of many users.
Musk had been eyeing Twitter since early this year, and made a deal to purchase the company in April. In July, however, he attempted to back out of the deal, stating that Twitter was not being transparent with the amount of spam it had been experiencing. Twitter sued Musk, stating that he had only backed out because he was unable to pay for it. In October, the suit was settled, and Musk finally acquired Twitter for $44 billion.
Musk wanted to buy Twitter in order to make the platform more free-speech-friendly. This delighted Republicans especially, who have accused Twitter of censorship. Musk has even stated that he will reinstate former President Donald Trump’s (he/him) account after his permanent ban from the platform. This change has advertisers on the site worried that inadequate moderation will place their ads alongside hateful content. In fact, auto giant General Motors has already suspended its advertising on the platform for the time being.
Musk’s biggest change so far has been to the verification system. While before it was based on the identity of the Twitter user, it is now a paid subscription service. After instituting this change, newly verified accounts began to impersonate celebrities and political figures. According to the New York Times, after an account posing as pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly tweeted out that it would be providing free insulin, it’s stock fell five percent.
Many are criticizing this decision, from politicians to author Stephen King (he/him). Content creators on the app are frustrated because if they aren’t willing to pay the $8 subscription fee, the algorithm will not favor their accounts as much as those who do. They argue that they are creating content for Twitter, and so they shouldn’t have to pay for it to be seen. Other criticism calls for an examination of free speech. Jessica González (she/her), co-CEO of media accountability group Free Press, stated, “You’re really saying that the free speech of people who pay is more important than the free speech of those who can’t.” People in this school of thought find it hard to agree that this new system reflects the ideals Musk bought Twitter for in the first place.