Elon Musk’s Twitter rips blue checks from government agencies; imitators emerge

Twitter has long been a way for people to follow tornado watches, train delays, news alerts, or the latest crime warnings from their local police department.

But when the Elon Musk-owned platform this week began removing blue verification checkmarks from accounts that don’t pay monthly fees, it left public agencies and other organizations around the world scrambling to find a solution. way to show that they are trustworthy and avoid imitators.

High profile users who lost their blue checks on Thursday included Beyoncé, Pope Francis, Oprah Winfrey and former President Donald Trump. But the checks have also been withdrawn from the accounts of major public transit systems from San Francisco to Paris, national parks like Yosemite, official weather trackers and some elected officials.

Twitter had about 400,000 verified users under the original blue vetting system. In the past, verifications meant that Twitter verified that users were who they said they were.

While Twitter now offers gold checks for “verified organizations” and gray checks for government organizations and their affiliates, it wasn’t always clear why some accounts had them on Friday and others didn’t.

Fake accounts claiming to represent Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, the city’s Department of Transportation, and the Illinois Department of Transportation all began sharing posts early Friday, falsely claiming that Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive — a major thoroughfare – would close to private traffic from next month.

A critical eye might spot obvious signs of fraud. Account IDs are slightly different from the genuine ones representing Lightfoot and transport agencies. Counterfeits also had significantly fewer followers.

But the fakes used the same photos, biographical text and homepage links as the real ones.

As of Friday, genuine Lightfoot and transportation agency accounts had no blue or gray checkmarks. Lightfoot’s office said the city is aware of the fake accounts and is “working with Twitter to resolve this issue.” At least one was suspended Friday.

Most Portland city government-operated accounts were unverified on Friday, except for the Portland Police Bureau and Portland Fire & Rescue, which each sported gray checks. The Oregon State Police has been similarly verified, unlike other state-run accounts.

TriMet, the Portland-area transit agency, had a blue check in its main account. A spokesperson said he pays $8 a month to maintain the extra layer of security provided by two-factor authentication on the account.

A number of agencies said they were waiting for more clarity from Twitter, which has been downsized sharply since Musk bought the San Francisco company for $44 billion last year. The confusion has raised fears that Twitter could lose its status as a platform for obtaining accurate and up-to-date information from authentic sources, including in emergencies.

As a tornado was about to hit central New Jersey earlier this month, an information account was maintained by the National Weather Service branch in Mount Holly, New Jersey. There was a blue check at the time. It no longer has a check, although the main NWS account and some other regional branches now sport a gray check marking them as official accounts.

Susan Buchanan, director of public affairs for the weather service, said the agency was in the process of applying to get the gray check mark for government agencies. She declined to answer why some regional NWS branches have lost their marks and others have them.

Brand maintenance costs range from $8 per month for individual web users to a starting price of $1,000 per month to verify an organization, plus $50 per month for each affiliate or employee account. But the meaning of the blue tick has changed to symbolize that the user has purchased a premium account which can help their tweets get seen by more people. It also includes other features such as the ability to edit tweets.

Celebrity users, from basketball star LeBron James to author Stephen King and Star Trek’s William Shatner, have been hesitant to join – although all three still had blue checks on Friday after Musk said that he had paid for them himself.

For users who still had a blue tick, a pop-up message said the account “is verified because they are a Twitter Blue follower and have verified their phone number.” Phone number verification simply means that the person has a phone number and has verified that they have access to it — it does not confirm the person’s identity.

According to an analysis by Travis Brown, a Berlin-based social media tracking software developer, less than 5% of old verified accounts appear to have paid to join Twitter Blue.

Musk’s decision to end what he calls the “lords and peasants system for who has or hasn’t got a blue tick” has unnerved some high-profile users and pleased some right-wing figures and Musk fans who thought the brands were unfair. But it’s not an obvious source of income for the social media platform which has long relied on advertising for most of its revenue.

Promised for weeks, the mass removal of thousands of blue checks was accompanied by a surprise decision to drop labels describing certain media organizations as government-funded or state-affiliated. Musk first championed a policy that lumped together state radio and television stations in the United States and other democracies with state-affiliated media in Russia and China, then abruptly changed the language, but now Twitter has removed the labels entirely without explanation. The changes came after National Public Radio and other outlets had already stopped using Twitter.

While a few prominent users said they would stop using Twitter instead of Blue Checks, many public bodies seemed to be sticking with the service.

Asked about the German government’s continued use of Twitter on Friday, spokeswoman Christiane Hoffmann said: “Of course, we are monitoring what is happening on Twitter very closely and are continually asking ourselves whether it is right to have chains there and how they should continue.”

Hoffmann said the government was concerned about developments on Twitter in recent weeks and months, adding that ministries, spokespersons and Chancellor Olaf Scholz now had gray checkmarks “for which nothing is paid “.

Minneapolis city officials requested gray verification on the city’s main Twitter account about three weeks ago and received approval on Thursday.

Jordan Gilgenbach, the city’s digital communications coordinator, said he plans to research the same for other city-run accounts, including the health department — which was unchecked Friday — but said Twitter’s system for rating and deciding which accounts qualify “has never really been clear.

“Whether it’s an active shooter situation or a weather-related event, or even more common events like snowstorms, it’s always a challenge, even with verification to combat misinformation and rumours,” Gilgenbach said. “It’s just going to make it harder.”

— Matt O’Brien and Kathleen Foody, Associated Press

O’Brien reported from Providence, Rhode Island. AP Technology Writer Barbara Ortutay in San Francisco and Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report. The Oregonian/OregonLive contributed local reporting.

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