Twitter appears to have halted its $7.99/month Blue subscription service, which allowed users to pay for a verification check mark, after users abused it to impersonate brands and celebrities.
Twitter launched the service in its iPhone app earlier this week, allowing users to purchase a checkmark that was previously used to indicate that an account was verified or official. The option to sign up for Twitter Blue is no longer available in the iPhone app as of Friday.
The service’s quick suspension suggests that, at least for the time being, CEO Elon Musk’s big plan to generate new revenue from users isn’t working as expected.
Because of the paid subscription service, a slew of pranksters set up imposter accounts on Twitter.
It made the platform even more vulnerable to misinformation, and many cheaply obtained checkmarks were used to impersonate brands, politicians, and celebrities with disparaging messages.
According to a current Twitter sales employee, the company decided to discontinue Twitter Blue verification in response to the influx of impersonators.
According to the employee, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on behalf of Twitter, one account resembling pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly caused a major issue when it tweeted, “we are excited to announce insulin is free now.”
The tweet remained on the social media platform for several hours before being removed. Later, the official Eli Lilly account tweeted: “We apologize to those who have been served a misleading message from a fake Lilly account.”
Following the false message, the stock price of Eli Lilly plummeted, as did that of other pharmaceutical companies, including AbbVie, which was also impersonated on Twitter. Major stock indices were positive at the time, as the market was rallying.
Using the paid subscriber blue checkmark, an impersonator also mocked Tesla, Elon Musk’s electric car company. An account with the handle “@TeslaReal” tweeted a series of disparaging messages, one of which stated, “honestly, the 53% drop in stock price doesn’t phase[sic] us.” If anyone knows anything about Crashing, it’s us.” The impact of so many changes on the Twitter platform is a major issue for advertisers, who have already paused spending there.
Furthermore, some users who had already paid for the service reported that their newly acquired blue checkmarks had vanished from their accounts. A spokesperson for Twitter was not immediately available for comment. Musk did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The removal of Twitter Blue verified comes as Musk and Alex Spiro, who is now acting as Twitter’s top lawyer, work to reassure employees, advertisers, and regulators that they will comply with all laws and the terms of a prior FTC consent decree. “I cannot emphasize enough that Twitter will do whatever it takes to adhere to both the letter and spirit of the FTC consent decree,” Elon Musk wrote in a companywide email obtained by CNBC on Thursday night.
Anything to the contrary is completely false. The same is true for any other government regulatory issues in which Twitter operates.”
In a subsequent e-mail, Spiro stated that his team spoke with FTC regulators on Thursday and that Twitter will have its “first upcoming compliance check” with the agency soon. He emphasized that any violations would be held against Twitter, not “individuals who work at Twitter.”
As previously reported by NBC News, since Musk took over, the company’s head of trust and safety, Yoel Roth, and chief of information security, Lea Kessner, among many others involved in infrastructure, trust, and safety, have left.