In case you happen to be ignoring the news like any sane human being, you might have missed that a certain billionaire bought Twitter about two weeks ago. Like some sort of stereotype out of an 80’s comedy, the new boss strutted into the place stating that changes were going to be made, and by golly, he made good on that promise. Among the many, possibly apocryphal, reports that surfaced on Twitter (where else?), the new boss fired lots of people, turned off a bunch of “unneeded” services and basically did his best impression of a bull in a china shop. One of the more interesting strategic choices he made was to monetize the “verification” system of Twitter which basically provided a way for celebrities, politicians, brands and journalists to “prove” they were who they said they were, for the purposes of differentiating themselves from other copy-cat Twitter accounts.
What could possibly go wrong?
Though in theory the new pay-for-verification systems was supposed to be different from the previous verification process (which was human-vetted and supposedly could not be purchased), the new leadership did not make this at all apparent and neither did the app itself, and so as expected, thousands of trolls lined up with $8 for their “verified” accounts, which then could be renamed to resemble any of the thousands of actual verified Twitter accounts. First to make headlines was comedian Kathy Griffin who used the new service to impersonate Twitter’s new owner for the purposes of doing what she is well known for: heckling famous people online. Said owner immediately flexed his boss powers and banned her and in the same breath issued a new proclamation – parody accounts must label themselves as such. Sensing an opening, the internet did what it does “best” and followed Ms. Griffin’s suit. Numerous celebrities, politicians and brands were “parodied,” and the results were variously hilarious, pointed, vulgar and in the case of at least one brand, actually financially damaging.
At the moment, this story continues to evolve. The new chief of Twitter is not backing down in his bold claims that Twitter will be remade under his leadership, while continuing to be called out by experts and (ex)employees for unsubstantiated claims and tweeting churlish reactions to the thousands of Twitter trolls ready for fresh meat – something the platform was infamous for long before the new king bought his latest crown. Something you can’t hide, however, is when real businesses put their money where their mouth is, or in this case, take that money elsewhere.