Oh God — who cares about Twitter, right? For something that only 6.9 percent of the global population use, it sure punches above its weight, hoo-ha wise. Barely a week goes by without some headline about a stupid online fight causing another problem. If it’s not someone being an asshole on it, it’s someone who’s being an asshole being banned from it; or someone who’s being an asshole being allowed back on to it, despite still being an asshole. Anyone who ever said that all humanity had to do to settle its differences was simply to “talk to each other” had never seen the average day on Twitter where someone posting a picture of their breakfast (“Yum, yum!”) can an hour later have caused a global Twitterstorm about the problematic history of toast.
On the other hand, it’s still amazing! There’s no precedent for a technology that allows anyone to post an idea, thought or picture that can become a global talking point by the end of the day. Twitter makes newspapers seem slow, television elite, politics old and most social situations dull. Plus most of the world’s most famous and influential people are on there, posting news, updates and opinions, 24/7, to followings larger than the population of many countries. Barack Obama has 133 million followers; Rihanna, 108 million. And this is why most people in journalism, media and politics are still on there. If you want to take the world’s temperature, your first and quickest port of call is to put your thermometer up Twitter’s bum.
All this is by way of explaining how bizarre Elon Musk’s latest business idea is. Musk bought Twitter last year for $44 billion — after repeatedly trying to back out of the deal — and since he took over, his “CEO vibes” have been “chaotic edgelord trying to drive a speeding car while sitting on the bonnet”. Half of Twitter’s workforce has been sacked; the platform’s coding was publicly leaked on to the platform; and Musk has engaged in online spats with his employees — including firing one — if they point out problems. Given that we know all this, one can only imagine what’s happening under the cover of various NDAs. At some point there will be a Twitter biopic that will make The Social Network look like Nativity 2: Danger in the Manger!.
Anyway, to this already erratic journey: an oncoming brick wall. On April 1 Musk announced that anyone who has a verified account must start paying $8 a month subscription — or lose their blue tick. Blue ticks were introduced to stop fraudulent accounts — preventing things like, in 2012, me pretending to be Obama, tweeting: “How to Be a Woman is out now in paperback — and, I have to say, Michelle and I have enjoyed reading it very much.” Or, on a more serious note, people pretending to be eg members of One Direction, then encouraging young women to DM them cash or nudes.
But now — keen to make money! — Musk is insisting these Kitemark-like ticks must be paid for or posters will lose their official verification. Additionally, anyone can pay a similar sum to gain a blue tick — thus rendering the concept meaningless.
There’s no precedent for a technology that allows anyone to post an idea, thought or picture.
Apart from the inevitable safeguarding problems this will cause — MoneySavingExpert Martin Lewis has highlighted accounts pretending to be him who are actually cryptocurrency accounts pushing get-rich-quick schemes — Musk has fundamentally misunderstood how Twitter works. When the “pay for verification” scheme was first mooted last year, Professor Paul Bernal perceptively pointed out that: “Musk seems to think he’s bought a tech company — when what he’s actually bought is a community of users.” In other words, it’s not the platform, stupid. It’s the people who use it that provide Twitter’s $44 billion value.
And Bernal’s observation is playing out in real time. The NBA legend LeBron James — Twitter following, 52 million — posted on Friday: “Welp guess my blue tick will be gone soon cause if you know me I ain’t paying the 5.” Following LeBron in not paying for a blue tick have been Chrissy Teigen, The Washington Post, The New York Times and the White House. More will surely follow.
As Alex Blechman at The Onion pointed out, incredulously: “Imagine how much it would cost to hire LeBron James to write content for your Web site. Imagine miraculously getting him to do it for free. Imagine then driving him away from your Web site so you can fail to collect $96 from him annually.”
Musk inadvertently owns the greatest and most pleasingly batshit roster of talent in all of human history. No other place on Earth has the leaders of every country, Bill Gates, Taylor Swift, Bruce Springsteen, Nasa, the BBC, Oprah Winfrey, the Premier League, CNN, Lady Gaga, the Kardashians — plus several thousand leading scientists, historians, biologists AND CHER — all willingly providing instant free content. Content that often makes news headlines around the world. And he wants to imperil that in favor of screwing a tenner a month out of them? Tell me again how he’s a business genius — because I can’t see it.
As the payment demands roll out, and the blue-tick accounts deactivate, one can only conclude that Musk — $44 billion down on the deal — can’t bear being the only person on Twitter paying to use it and is trying to drag everyone else down with him.
Caitlin Moran is a journalist and the author of More Than a Woman, How to Build a Girl, and Moranthology