April 1, 2023

What will happen on Twitter, now that the elite are no longer boosted by the old blue check system?

I'm reading a Twitter thread from Nathan Hubbard, who presumably is who he says he is, since he had a blue check when he wrote this last night:
1) As someone who was (briefly) in charge of the Twitter Media team - the group tasked with getting high profile people onto Twitter, and verification - AND as one of the few ever to voluntarily give up the blue check...

But you've got a blue check now. 

... I want to try to articulate how risky this policy change is.  
2) The reason the Twitter Media team existed was because *almost all* of the engagement on Twitter happens with tweets from high profile people/organizations across government, sports, music, business, news, whatever the Kardashians are, etc. They’re the lifeblood of the platform.

Are or were... but it doesn't have to be. TikTok works on the power of the individual message posted and uplifts complete nobodies if the platform users engage with it. 

3) We verified those people so that any user could know they were interacting with a real account; part of the fun of twitter is the real time dialogue with thought leaders (that then flows to others in the replies who get to share their thoughts and ideas).

There are the important people and the peons who ought to be thrilled at the chance to interact with them. Is that how it always should be? TikTok challenges that model. Notice how Hubbard sneers at the Kardashians — "whatever the Kardashians are" — but still expects the little people to go on forever engaging with them rather than finding, say, Yuri Lamasbella, which is what happens, magically, on TikTok.

Hubbard's point is that it's "risky" to change, but maybe it's risky not to change.

Back to Hubbard:

4) There were a bunch of important safety and security reasons for doing this as well. Hero tweeps like @KatieS and @Larakate have all the scars/stories to prove it.

He's just gesturing at a problem — not telling us what it is — and he is trusting us to believe that the old blue check system was a solution.

It was also possible to organically build a verifiable account by gaining followers and impact on the platform.

That just means someone who didn't begin with elite credentials from the outside world could earn status from within the Twitter system. Hubbard is arguing that it's not thoroughly elitist or not entirely exclusionary to people who become famous within social media — but they would have to build that fame without the assistance of the check that was given to people who had status in the world outside of Twitter. 

5) There can be some debate over whether Twitter thrived on giving many non-verified users false hope that they were doing anything other than shouting into the void; regardless, it was (and is) the case that verified users are what drive engagement.

Hubbard concedes the whole game there. That's what Twitter was. 

6) Now, surely there are verified users today who don’t deserve it. They craved the status symbol and found a way to worm their way in.

Worm! They didn't want worms. They weren't just verifying that people were who they said they were, they were establishing an elite level and signaling to readers that these were the people worth reading. They were exclusionary. No worms! That's too much judgment, not enough democracy. 

The percentage is low, and the impact to the platform negligible. Any designation like this is by definition subject to human judgement.

Hubbard's writing is becoming lax at this point. I suspect he knows he's offering bad arguments. He just conceded that granting and withholding the checks was done subjectively, based on the insiders' conception of merit. Who doesn't suspect or know that this was done in a biased, political way? That makes the argument in favor of Musk's new blue check system: It's democratic.  

7) But again, the Media Team spent all their time and resources supporting the people who - and the data undeniably proved this - support the platform. We knew where our bread was buttered. Twitter didn’t exist without these creators sending tweets.

Again, Hubbard's writing is lax. Did he mean to say the old system was there to boost the voices of elite media and to do it for the money? By the way, the cliché he's grasping for is to know which side your bread is buttered on. Maybe he knows that but didn't want to say "side." It sounds so partisan.

8) There were times where certain high profile people actually asked to be paid to join Twitter.

That was my feeling toward Twitter back when it began and I was a successful blogger: Why would I contribute my writing effort to their page, which they monetize, when I have my own page, which I have the chance to try to monetize. Obviously, they had to fend off these requests. Their whole project depended on convincing people to work for them for free, for the sheer benefit of getting to connect with other people that they'd collect in one place. 

There was some internal discussion about this over the course of the company’s history. But the decision was always to hold the line and hope the network effects would win.

Yes, that's what I just said. Their business model was that users must be convinced it's in their interest to write for them without pay. That was the risk Twitter took, and it worked to the extent that it worked. 

They did.

Twitter held the line and won. 

9) But what Twitter is going to start doing tonight flips the equation - it is going to ask its most important creators to *pay Twitter* instead of the other way around.

So, now, the change isn't that Twitter will start paying its content creators. The change is in the other direction: Twitter users should pay. If they want whatever power inheres in the blue check.  

 Every other social media platform has found a way to pay its creators, not charge them. 

Facebook and Reddit don't pay. In blogging, you can get paid. Google's Blogger has Google AdSense. It's a way to get paid for blogging, but even with a large readership, it's not much — not worth the clutter on the page for me. 

Will it work?

10) Every day that goes by validates Zuck’s famous “clown car crashed into a gold mine” description of Twitter.

It's not so famous that I've heard it, and I don't really know what it means. Wouldn't it mean Twitter just lucked into something profitable? How is "Zuck's" — ugh — metaphor supposed to support Hubbard's point? Maybe he just means the original structure of Twitter happened to be a lucky guess, so don't change it, because you're unlikely to get lucky again. Don't try to make it better, because you might turn off the magic.

While it looks like a criticism on the surface, it is in fact praise for the underlying resilience and perseverance of Twitter. As Zuck discovered, it’s hard to kill.

Those 2 sentences are too annoying to parse. Why are we talking about "Zuck"? It's creepy. 

11) Tonight is another test of that resilience. While a lot of web3 stuff has proven nonsense, the underlying principle that creators should have ownership in the consumer facing platforms that their content powers is still a vibrant idea, one most creators passionately believe.

Tonight, i.e., last night. We'll see how new Twitter functions. 

12) This is the first major opportunity for creators, as a whole, to flex their muscle and reclaim power in the web3 age (if that’s a thing 🤷‍♂️). If most OG blue checks stop tweeting in protest of being asked to pay to create the content that Twitter lives by…Twitter dies.

It's kind of a strike... by the elite. Stand back and watch, Hubbard tells us, and we might see it die. And, he says, it will die if they do go on strike and stop writing because they refuse to write without free blue checks. These are all people who were writing without getting paid, but somehow they might be people who won't pay to write (or just write without blue checks).

13) The likely sequencing will be like LeBron...

Ugh! I have to have been following "LeBron" to understand this sentence. 

... first, give up the check and not pay. But as the experience degrades and impersonation abounds, creators will start to wonder why they’d contribute content to a platform and company that holds them in such contempt.

Contempt? You mean like what you had, in the old system, for the writers who didn't "deserve" their blue checks but "craved the status symbol and found a way to worm their way in"? Is democratization really so repulsive to you? What's so awful about a TikTok style approach where posts rise and fall depending on their value to users? What is it you fear in the marketplace of ideas? That some elite media writers won't bounce to the top when they scrawl routine things? That the readers will decide?

14) That will be the point at which we might expect a wave of silence to ensue.

Are you expecting "silence"?  I'm expecting lots of messages from all sorts of people, rising to the top as some professionals resist playing the new game. It's a big opportunity for those who choose to take it. 

The first real staring contest of the creator economy is upon us. Will creators seize the moment? Can Twitter sustain it? 

I note that Hubbard resists predicting failure.  


RideSpaceMountain said...

"There are the important people and the peons who ought to be thrilled at the chance to interact with them."

Democrats in a nutshell. Very "cavalier". Very hierarchical. Very Southern antebellum plantation.

tommyesq said...

part of the fun of twitter is the real time dialogue with thought leaders

Or at least to interact in real time with a celebrity's publicist or hired Twitter ghost-writer ("ghost-tweeter"). Anyone who believes that (a) the blue check represents a "thought leader" (William Schatner? Really??); and (b) that "thought leader" is the person actually authoring the tweets in his/her name, is a fool.

AimHighHitLow said...

For the first time, a major social media platform algorithm is open source. Twitter was bad before Musk purchased, but an open algorithm might create an improvement.

Karen said...

Last year, I severely curated my Twitter feed just to some thinkers in the corner of the internet in which I’m interested, and some folks I know personally through having met them on my YouTube channel, The Meaning Code. No blue checks.
We have fascinating conversations on Twitter, share content, point to interesting events. Some of the researchers (biochemists, neuropsychologists) ask others in their field or out of it for help on queries. It’s a terrific platform for that kind of thing. I hope that won’t change now that not having a blue check matters somehow to the algorithm.

Joe Smith said...

Put this down in the category of zero fucks given...

Brian said...

Excellent analysis, Ann. One thing I'd want to point out to Hubbard is that Twitter was dying under the old model. The old ways could not stand forever.

7) But again, the Media Team spent all their time and resources supporting the people who - and the data undeniably proved this - support the platform. We knew where our bread was buttered. Twitter didn’t exist without these creators sending tweets.

And by implication, the only way the Elite Users were elite was because of the Media Team spending all their time and resources. Hubbard was the gatekeeper.

He knows where his bread was buttered as well. Without gates, there are no gatekeepers.

Carol said...

This guy still believes in "thought leaders" lol. Just try to tell these people they're not really "thought leaders" but followers of a particular sector of the audience. I got in protracted discussion online with someone who really thought Hannity led watchers around by the nose. Just shut him up and all will be well.

Even real intellectuals like Christopher Lasch or JBP just discover a vein already there and work it.

Tom T. said...

This sounds suspiciously like "if so-and-so wings the election, I'll move away." Those threats never pan out. Besides, the people he's talking about *already* tried to leave Twitter when Musk first took over. They found that the experience on Mastodon wasn't as good, so they all stayed on Twitter.

Zavier Onasses said...

Government entities and NGOs that use Twitter - and I suspect there are A LOT of them - will find it necessary to spring $8/mo for the blue mark.

LeBron James, if he wants to confidently admire the size of his Twitter tail, will do likewise.

Yancey Ward said...

That was an excellent critique of an awful essay.

The "Zuck" and "LeBron" usage was Hubbard telling you that he is so important that he is on a first name basis with both men. I suspect that is what the blue checkmarks were always about- it all goes back to high school cliques.

Ampersand said...

I am indifferent to expressing the extent of my indifference.

robother said...

Dylan's wise advice--"Don't follow leaders (and watch for parking meters!)"-- holds doubly for thought leaders.

Jamie said...


We're not talking DaVinci here. We're not even talking Warhol (no particular animus, just talking about how he used preexisting images). We're talking about people who - like this guy, and the odious Colbert - opine on stuff and then look around the room expectantly, waiting for clapplause, which shows them how smart, correct, and/or funny they are - ignoring the fact that their platform, be it Twitter or a studio audience, self-selected into their laps.

They appear to be unable to "create" without affirmation and they think that the phenomenon of a self-selected affirming audience isn't circular.

We live in a universe of self-selection and confirmation bias and it takes real effort to step outside it; I don't do it much, myself. I stick to places, both real and virtual, where my views (and myself!), while not necessarily popular, at least aren't instantly reviled as evil or troglodyte.

Dude1394 said...

Well done, it is some pretty lazy elitist "journalism" there.

cassandra lite said...

The bellwether will be if Rob Reiner, he of the idiotic and over-the-top Trump infatuation, leaves the platform or pays the money. My money's on the former.

NorthOfTheOneOhOne said...

Is democratization really so repulsive to you? What's so awful about a TikTok style approach where posts rise and fall depending on their value to users? What is it you fear in the marketplace of ideas? That some elite media writers won't bounce to the top when they scrawl routine things? That the readers will decide?

I would expect that there was a lot of censorship going on at Twitter, beyond politics, that was geared to protect celebrities from the opinions of the hoi polloi. None of then want to hear Joe or Josephine Sixpack tell them that their last movie/tv show/album/on court appearance really sucked. Democratizing Twitter will mean that the high-status users will flee in droves.

Lem the artificially intelligent said...

"What will happen on Twitter, now that the elite are no longer boosted by the old blue check system?"

Content will have to have enough juice to break thru to the viral sphere.

For an example of how to do it, study Trump's rise to the GOP nomination in 2016.

Tom T. said...

Journalist Emily Miller had a Substack post about her blue checkmark that is frankly laughable for its clueless popular-kid privilege.

BIII Zhang said...

Why it's high risk:

Twitter was designed to do 2 things:

1) Identify those people in society who move public opinion, either because they're popular or right or pretty ... the REASON is immaterial. Call these people "INFLUENCERS."

2) Strike down with horrible vengeance against those INFLUENCERS who are not towing the Democrat Party line by eliminating their REACH; and enrich those who are spouting Democrat Party talking points by rewarding them with free stuff, higher profiles, manipulated reach, job opportunities, endorsements, sponsorships, etc.

In this way, you control society. People who you disagree with are not prevented from speaking, they're just prevented from owning a bullhorn. Those who are parroting your line are made famous and given free stuff. Eventually, people will get the hint and start parroting your line because they'll see others getting rich doing it and they'll try to capitolize on GREED.

If you eliminate the blue check, this system falls apart. The blue check was the reward that led to the riches. If #influencers can't feel special, part of the "in" crowd, they'll migrate elsewhere, and there will surely be a new club for them to join shortly.

Studio 54 used to allow in only select clientele. It shut down the minute they started letting ANY OLD BODY in. If I can pay to get the blue check, then the blue check is meaningless to the elite.

Birches said...

I lurk in a religious corner of Twitter where no one had a blue check but people had really good followings, lots of engagement. This little subcorner is starting to be noticed by others because there are no bots. This is what could happen to Twitter too as blue checks stop having all of their replies as just mindless bots saying,"Yas Queen!" I think Elon knows what he's doing.

Quayle said...

Yes, Elon is flipping the business mode. The user is not longer the product, the network service is the product. And twitter and facebook and google were never free. You paid with your data, and you got served up as the true product to the advertisers.

I have always wondered whether in this (what was it? Web3.0 - is that what he called it?) - I have always wondered whether there is a market for the various network services, for a monthly fee, with a promise that your data will not be combed through, shared, or sold.

Jersey Fled said...

And all of these celebrities, sports figures and thought leaders are going to disappear because they don’t want to pay $8 a month to stay there?

Michael said...

I have no predictions how all this will work out for Twitter. But it is consistently amusing to see elites spout this barbarians at the gate nonsense.

Admit it, you get a chuckle out of it as well.

Gerda Sprinchorn said...

Good job AA.

A very good, close reading of the text, which was necessary because the original text is so squishy that it is hard/tedious to wade through all its flabby flaws.

John henry said...

Who is John Galt?

This sounds like a pissant version of atlas shrugged.

John Henry

Kate said...

Hubbard, trying to make fetch happen.

Nice said...

If you have to pay for a blue check, does that mean it's now ok to pay for followers? Have the rules changed on that?

The blue check equaled notability, which always seemed kind of an immutable trait, and you couldn't put a price tag on. So they acknowledged it with a designation. But now they remove the blue, and the person or entity somehow becomes un-notable. I guess that's the concern Something along the lines of, --you're a public figure, but now, we've decided to remove your public figure-hood.

I never liked the original concept because you couldn't be anonymous. For me, the new policy is great because I can have both a blue check and still preserve anonymity. So, I'm actually close to purchasing, my only sticking point is what I'm actually getting for the money. My twitter is mostly retweets, so I just don't see how I could benefit, since I don't need my posts to go to the top of anything.

typingtalker said...

I think that there has been a lot of conversation on this topic where one or more of the conversationalists is not completely familiar with what the blue checkmark means. I was one of those conversationalists.

Details here ...

How to get the blue checkmark on Twitter

Gerda Sprinchorn said...

When you think about the numbers a little, there is a "the lady doth protest too much" vibe here.

The "thought leaders" he is talking about are heavy-weights backed by major resources, so $8 per month is chump change to them. Pretending that $8 a month matters in the least to them is just silly. Plus, identity-verification is worth far more than $8 a month to them. Plus, genuine identity verification costs money, so why shouldn't they pay for it?

The author's complaints sound childish.

Jamie said...

This sounds like a pissant version of atlas shrugged.

It sure does, except that playing the part of Atlas we have a flock of parrots and some people who think vaginal steamers cause a material difference in their... um... I'm not sure what condition vaginal steamers are supposed to affect, actually.

Tank said...

The funny thing is that the amount of money that Elon Musk is asking for is basically zero.

Mike (MJB Wolf) said...

What a self important starfucking loser. “Creators” is shorthand for “content creators” which itself is a misleading term because so many of the blue check people actually rely on assistants, sycophants and staffers to you know generate content. So yeah the “Lebron” and “Zuck” name drops are just this former gatekeepers way of giving his bonafides. I’m with the big chunk of audience who are laughing at the idea these celebretards balking because they don’t want to pay for their check marks. Entitlement breeds entitlement.

mikee said...

Odd that the untermenschen are somehow required for the ubermenschen to use this communication platform successfully. Why not allow only a select group to use the system, and others to watch without ability to horn in on the action by commenting? Oh, yeah, that was the way things worked in the before times, long ago. Never mind.

I, for one, look forward to Musk weaponizing Twitter's feed for personal gain and political influence, and enhancing its user data acquisition to NSA levels of intrusiveness.

Michael said...

All these successful, important "elites" are upset about being asked to pay $8 a month to ensure that they are not being impersonated? Cry me a river.

Big Mike said...

What comes across to me is that Nathan Hubbard is stuck in an old paradigm. He’s describing how things used to work (except they didn’t — not really) or at any rate were supposed to work. Elon Musk is introducing a new business paradigm that is edging towards the disruptive. Not disruptive technology, because it’s fundamentally the same technology, but a new approach to making money from the technology. It might not be the same way Jack Dorsey and Parag Agrawal thought Twitter, Inc. should make money, but the evidence is that Twitter was actually losing money with their business model (and it still is, though to rate of loss has slowed).

And as I’ve commented before on other threads, if this new business paradigm doesn’t work out, Musk can try something else. Entrepreneurs think that way and work that way. Successful ones, anyway.

Breezy said...

Gawd, Hubbard sure sounds like he has a junior high mentality. How do people like that hold so much social media power, even for a moment?

tim maguire said...

I had an interaction with Boy George once. That was pretty cool and I can’t imagine it happening anywhere else. I didn’t engage with, but did lose respect for, a whole host of other prominent people. That likely would not have happened without Twitter either.

Prominent people who are on twitter generally use it as a marketing tool, so they are making money off it indirectly. Twitter did not charge them for this service as most marketing vehicles do because they made their money elsewhere to.

His argument seems to boil down to, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. But Musk isn’t fixing it, he’s trying a different models. Or perhaps he thinks it is broken (depends on how you look at it) because he sees the bots as a “can’t ignore” issue and thinks changing the model to something more democratic but less free is the best way to make sure everyone is a real person.

The real risk from charging is not the big contributor accounts who think they should be paid, I think they’re wrong and they’ll pay (even the ones who say they won’t), but the small accounts who don’t get enough benefit from Twitter to cross the mental barrier of paying for a thing that used to be free.

In aggregate, the little guys like me are more important than the big guys with the big follower numbers. We’re the ones the advertisers are paying for.

Zavier Onasses said...

Help me out here: the difference between a "thought leader" and a "social media influencer?"

gilbar said...

the group tasked with getting high profile people onto Twitter

Think about That! the group tasked with getting high profile people onto Twitter
Twitter had people to get "high profile people onto Twitter".. They weren't coming on their own.

Also; how does the old saw cut? IF you're not paying for a product.. YOU ARE the product.

JAORE said...

Just as AI struggles to reach consciousness, thousands of Twitter bots cry out in pain.

boatbuilder said...

It is notable that Hubbard's argument is precisely that which Trump and others have argued should revoke their section 230 immunity. That Twitter is a publisher, not a utility.

I happen to think that the "utility" model is better for Twitter and for freedom of speech in general, and I think that is what Musk is working towards. But Hubbard is basically arguing that Twitter was (and should remain) precisely the biased thought control outlet that we thought it was (actually we had no idea that it was as thoroughly biased and corrupt as it actually was until Musk and Taibbi blew the whistle).

boatbuilder said...

"5) There can be some debate over whether Twitter thrived on giving many non-verified users false hope that they were doing anything other than shouting into the void; regardless, it was (and is) the case that verified users are what drive engagement."

There can also be some debate over whether Twitter caused many to shout into the void when they were falsely led to believe that they were communicating with those who wanted to communicate with them.

Actually no debate--that is what they did. And not just to the "non-verified." They did it to the blue checks who were not verified as proper liberal speakers.

Narayanan said...

can somebody with knowledge compare/provide lessons from .

this BlueChek system and ranked voting in future elections

boatbuilder said...

Bill Zhang: Wait until Musk does the Sylvester McMonkey McBean thing and starts charging a fee for the removal of the blue check. This will be fun to watch.

n.n said...

A low or high trust community with capital (e.g. retained earnings) investment including discerning minds.

n.n said...

Mortal gods, goddesses, experts, and demos-cratics will have to earn their flocks.

Narayanan said...

thanks for the link ........

calling it MuskMan Tattoo

The checkmark will appear once our team reviews your Twitter Blue subscribed account and if it meets our requirements.

Sebastian said...

Any day with an Althouse fisking is a good day.

And may I say that I prefer reading it on this blog rather than in a series of tweets?

JK Brown said...

Ever since I read the below by Murray Rothbard on "intellectuals" I've had the idea that since blogging began we've been in a kind of war of the "opinion-molders". When you hear "intellectual" you tend to think of university professors. But the "opinion-molders" have always been those who controlled the message, the book publishers and newspaper editors. The professors had to get through them to get a wide audience. Enter blogs. Overnight, professors across the board were able to speak without filter to the "masses". Others not employed as professors chimed in. The "journalists" were not amused. Social media muted this somewhat as feeds started, with emphasis on quick, dirty, often snarling, comment. "Twit" after all means to "taunt, upbraid, remind of fault..."

Twitter went from a way for Iranian protestors to connect, to 'blue check" intellectual control. And naturally, being a linch pin point, the state sought to control the message that got out like they used to be able to have a quiet word with a publisher or editor in chief.

The war continues with this blue check drama being another set back for the old line "opinion-molders".

For this essential acceptance, the majority must be persuaded by ideology that their government is good, wise and, at least, inevitable, and certainly better than other conceivable alternatives. Promoting this ideology among the people is the vital social task of the “intellectuals.” For the masses of men do not create their own ideas, or indeed think through these ideas independently; they follow passively the ideas adopted and disseminated by the body of intellectuals. The intellectuals are, therefore, the “opinion-molders” in society. And since it is precisely a molding of opinion that the State most desperately needs, the basis for age-old alliance between the State and the intellectuals becomes clear.

It is evident that the State needs the intellectuals; it is not so evident why intellectuals need the State. Put simply, we may state that the intellectual’s livelihood in the free market is never too secure; for the intellectual must depend on the values and choices of the masses of his fellow men, and it is precisely characteristic of the masses that they are generally uninterested in intellectual matters. The State, on the other hand, is willing to offer the intellectuals a secure and permanent berth in the State apparatus; and thus a secure income and the panoply of prestige. For the intellectuals will be handsomely rewarded for the important function they perform for the State rulers, of which group they now become a part.
--Murray Rothbard, 'The Anatomy of the State'

loudogblog said...

I think that his idea of a Twitter strike fails to account for the fact that many celebrities are self centered and ego driven. They won't be able to prevent themselves from Tweeting to their fans.

The celebrities that I follow are the celebrities that I specifically choose to follow. Not having Twitter try and boost tweets to me from people that I don't follow will have the effect of clearing out some of the riff-raff.

Plus, the businesses will gladly pay $1000 a month because they are scared to death of doing anything that might affect sales.

Mike (MJB Wolf) said...

How do people like that hold so much ______ power, even for a moment?

Evergreen question and one I ask myself every day in some way or other. I’m continually amazed at the depth of cultural rot the Left has inflicted on American institutions. Absolutely incredible yet breathtakingly real. One of these days the end times prophets are going to be right.

rehajm said...

whatever the Kardashians are

The Kardashians have an incredible skill- they get people to look. An incredibly large amount of people. That has incredible economic value.

Nobody knows who the fuck Nathan Hubbard is. A Blue Check doesn’t change that. That frustrates Nathan Hubbard. He’s not alone.

Original Mike said...

In a world where some people are smarter than others and some people are better informed than others, you would think "thought leaders" would be an indispensable class. Unfortunately, in the world we live in, a group who is neither smarter nor well-informed have somehow captured the microphone.

Narayanan said...

White House Refuses To Pay For Twitter Verification

do we need special Congress Authority appropriation?
is 'paid membership' constitutional? establishment of something or other?

Narayanan said...

''characteristic of the masses'' aka Les Deplorables

it is so easy for /Libertarian Intellectuals/ to slip into Statist ''linguisms''

Drago said...

Seen on Twitter re Idiots commenting on Musk:

Leftists/LLR-democraticals Before: Internet guy will fail at rockets/cars.

Leftists/LLR-democraticals Now: Rockets/cars guy will fail at internet.