Fresh off pushing the baseless, far-right conspiracy theory that the home intruder who severely beat Paul Pelosi was actually his gay lover, Elon Musk—the newly minted CEO of Twitter—continues to embarrass himself in his own digital town square. Amid reports that he plans to charge verified, or “bluecheck,” users for the supposed honor of being verified, Musk tweeted on Tuesday afternoon: “Twitter’s current lords & peasants system for who has or doesn’t have a blue checkmark is bullshit. Power to the people! Blue for $8/month.”
Musk is, mind you, the world’s foremost wealth hoarder, with a net worth clocking in at over $220 billion. He made a horrible business decision in buying Twitter for $44 billion at a significant loss, proving that it doesn’t actually take much more than generational wealth and negative brain cells to be a billionaire or CEO—and we are all, now, about to pay the price for his utterly lacking business acumen.
And let’s state the obvious: Charging for use of Twitter—namely, charging journalists or public figures for the supposed, great privilege of not being impersonated by peddlers of disinformation—is its own system of “lords and peasants,” afforded to those who can and can’t pay $8 per month for verification. As RawStory’s Matthew Chapman has pointed out, Twitter verification is “not a status symbol, it’s a security feature.” Musk is now weaponizing the language of anti-capitalist activists he openly scorns (in at least one case, with openly racist memes) quite literally to enrich himself, and compensate for his own self-made economic ruin. A “lords & peasants system” very much exists—but it’s more closely embodied by his union-busting, firing workers for taking family leave, and refusal to pay factory workers a living wage, than public figures seeking protection on the biggest website on the internet.
Who cares that this new set-up will inevitably harm journalists and make fake news and the total lies that Musk, himself, spent the weekend peddling, more prevalent than ever? Not Musk! To be clear, Musk has detailed zero steps that will be taken to verify the identities of anyone who buys into the $8 per month program, rendering pretty much every vaguely public figure—many of whom are low or modestly-paid journalists—vulnerable to impersonation, greater harassment, and loss of credibility.
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Practically by his own admission, Musk’s almost child-like incompetence is driving away advertisers and their money, and Musk—the world’s richest man—would rather the rest of us foot the bill than him. That is the actual system of “lords and peasants”—one in which a “lord” like him can buy the entire digital town square and subsequently make us pay for it. In Musk’s mind, anyone with the privilege to do so should be able to buy their way toward credibility in the same way that he was able to buy Twitter, despite his sub-zero understanding of how this website works and the wants and needs of its users.
Twitter users are, to be clear, not the buyers or customers of Twitter—we’re the product. The website mines and exists solely from the free content that its users have created for years. Twitter’s customers have long been advertisers, but all of Musk’s varying shenanigans have been driving key advertisers away for months now. Earlier on Tuesday, Musk publicly begged author Stephen King for $8 after the author rightly tweeted of a monetary verification system, “Fuck that, they should pay me. If that gets instituted, I’m gone like Enron.”
All of this would be pathetically comical if the stakes weren’t so grave. There are serious concerns about the long-term consequences of Musk’s “leadership” at Twitter—which has reportedly entailed taking away vital content moderation powers from all but 15 people working at the company ahead of next week’s midterm elections, and threats to lay off 75% of the company’s staff.
Much of Musk’s acquisition of Twitter has transparently been rooted in his own insecurities—perhaps stemming from the vast circulations of photos of his previous hairline, or photos linking him with convicted trafficker Ghislaine Maxwell, or jokes about him getting rejected from Berghain. According to some reports, he only went through with the $44 billion purchase, from which he spent much of this year unsuccessfully trying to back out, because he was too embarrassed by all the additional communications that his lawsuit threatened to publicly unearth. And now, here he is, about to transform the deeply important security measure of verification into a meaningless, $8-per-month status symbol—in no small part because Musk can’t stand that many public figures and verified intellectuals on the platform see him as the idiot he is.