Elon Musk reassures advertisers amid ‘blue check’ verification chaos

Elon Musk tried to reassure advertisers on Twitter on Wednesday that his chaotic takeover of the social media platform won’t hurt their brands.

But his effort came after a day of changes to the platform’s account verification systems and an acknowledgment from Musk that some “dumb things” could happen as he transforms the company.

On Wednesday morning, Twitter users woke up to find some pages belonging to high-profile accounts, including national political figures, news organizations and some prominent journalists, marked with the new “official” gray marks that meant the accounts they were authentic.

The new labels had been announced by product executive Esther Crawford the day before. Its introduction came in response to growing concerns about account authentication on the platform following changes to its previous verification system.

That system used what are known as “blue checks” to confirm the authenticity of an account. But starting Wednesday, the platform would allow users to sign up for Twitter’s blue mark verification badge by joining the Twitter Blue subscription service and paying a monthly fee.

Just hours after the gray badges were released, Musk responded to a tweet from YouTube product reviewer Marques Brownlee who had “killed” the official label, adding that the blue check will be the “great leveler.”

Shortly after, Crawford followed up with his own tweet saying that the “official” tag would still be implemented as part of the imminent launch of Twitter Blue. What Musk meant, he told her, is that Twitter wasn’t focusing on giving people that label as of yet and focusing on “government and commercial entities to begin with.”

However, later in the day, Musk told advertisers in a livestreamed conversation that the “official” tag would go away. “In addition to being an aesthetic nightmare when looking at the Twitter feed, it was another way to create a two-class system,” Musk said. “It wasn’t addressing the core issue.”

Acknowledging the chaos surrounding the launch, Musk said in a tweet that Twitter users should expect the platform to experiment and “do a lot of dumb stuff in the coming months” as it implements changes at the company. “We’ll keep what works and change what doesn’t,” he said.

Whether that will reassure advertisers is another question. Advertising is Twitter’s biggest source of revenue. But abrupt changes at the company and concerns about content moderation and hate speech on the platform have prompted several major companies, including General Motors and General Mills, to halt spending.

Musk has blamed civil liberties and advocacy groups that have urged companies to reconsider their ad buys on the platform in question for falling ad revenue. And he had previously threatened, via tweet, a “thermonuclear name and shame” to advertisers who left Twitter.

But he took a more measured approach on Wednesday, asking them to “give it a minute and see how things play out.”

“The best way to understand what’s going on with Twitter is to use Twitter,” he told the group.

Musk said his goal was to turn Twitter into a force for truth and stop fake accounts. He argued that making paid blue subscription accounts more important would have the effect of discouraging spammers, who would not want to pay for such a service.

Musk also promised faster evolution of Twitter’s service, opened up the possibility of allowing peer-to-peer payments, and said Twitter would allow free speech without amplifying hateful comments.

“There is a big difference between freedom of expression and freedom of scope,” Musk said.

Lou Paskalis, a longtime marketing and media executive and former head of global media for Bank of America, said Wednesday’s briefing raised questions that are likely to leave Fortune 500 advertisers uneasy.

The biggest concern for big advertisers is brand safety and risk avoidance, he said. And Musk seems uninterested in controlling his Twitter persona, which can be divisive, like his pre-election tweet advising Americans to vote Republican.

“To go out like Elon did…and say ‘vote Republican since there’s a Democrat in the White House,’ I don’t know what marketer wants to come close to that,” he said.

Advertisers and Twitter users have experienced some whiplash in just two weeks since Musk officially bought Twitter. While social media platforms typically beta test products and features for weeks with a subset of users before releasing them widely, Musk has tweeted the changes, gathering feedback and negotiating with people on the platform and then quickly releasing and changing from specific . products

In the hours after the launch of Twitter Blue and the pay-per-checkmark scheme, new accounts began sporting the blue mark. For now, there seems to be a distinction between previously verified accounts and newly verified accounts. Hovering over the blue check brings up a message saying that the account is verified because it has subscribed to Twitter Blue. On the accounts of those who have been previously verified and, for the time being, remain verified, the message says that user has a blue tick because they “are notable in government, news, entertainment, or another designated category.”

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