BOSTON (CBS) - This week, there were two verified U.S. Senator Ed Markeys with blue check marks next to their name on Twitter: one was real, and the other was created by a Washington Post reporter with permission from the senator.
The senator wanted to test "Twitter Blue," the pay-to-play verification system launched by new CEO Elon Musk on Wednesday before it appeared to be taken down Friday.
The service would allow any user on the platform to get a blue checkmark next to their name for a $7.99/month subscription.
The blue check used to mean a user was "verified" by the company. It was free, but you had to prove you were legitimate, and checks were typically preserved for celebrity, journalist, company, and government official accounts. When Musk tweeted early in his Twitter takeover that he would make blue check marks accessible to any user who paid, he was met with immediate concern that the move would delegitimize accounts who use the platform to break news or announce government information or sports trades.
"Twitter is based on credibility, and this blue check literally was a check on the barbarians at the gate," explained BIGfish PR CEO David Gerzof Richard, who is also a Communications Professor at Emerson College. "It is what made reporters and journalists stand out from the everyday conspiracy theorists. Once that wall came down, everybody was at the same level, and who do you believe?"
That was exactly the issue on Wednesday and Thursday when Twitter Blue was active. Fake, "verified" accounts, including lies that insulin would be free and that Lebron James was requesting a trade. The fallout had real consequences, including plummeting stock prices for companies who had misinformation spread about them on fake accounts.
"It's a dumpster fire," Richard said. "It was just a flow of nonsense and chaos and controversy."
The confirmation that a second account could exist, seeming to represent a sitting U.S. Senator, is what prompted Sen. Markey to write a letter to Musk Friday. His fake account has since been suspended.
"Safeguards such as Twitter's blue checkmark once allowed users to be smart, critical consumers of news and information in Twitter's global town square. But your Twitter takeover, rapid and haphazard imposition of platform changes, removal of safeguards against disinformation, and firing of large numbers of Twitter employees have accelerated Twitter's descent into the Wild West of social media," he wrote. "That is unacceptable. Twitter and its leadership have a responsibility to the public to ensure the platform doesn't become a breeding ground for manipulation and deceit."
Sen. Markey's full letter can be found here.
On Friday, Musk tweeted that there would be a required "parody" label when Twitter Blue relaunched for any users creating parody accounts.
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