The first casualty of Twitter is the truth.
The speed of information just kept a lead-footed slipper on the accelerator
The first casualty of war is the truth. Someone smart said that once, at a course I did in university. Journalism, I think it was. Apropos university, that’s when I learned to code because I was too introverted to be a journalist. “On the internet,” I figured. Technology wasn’t going to go backward, was it?
And it didn’t. The speed of information just kept a lead-footed slipper on the accelerator. A lie, it seemed, could get around the world twenty times before good ‘ol truth had yawned, grumbled at the broken coffee maker, and strapped on his boots. On Twitter, in particular, things were happening and it became increasingly important to sift the wheat from the chaff. The blue check became important. Not because those with a blue check didn’t lie (we do), or post outrageously inappropriate crap from time to time (we do), but because at least you knew who was doing the talking.
In this exact moment, I’m finding myself four messages deep into a Twitter conversation with a source. I’ve met this person a few times the first time I emailed him must have been around 1998. I was working on a little project, and I wanted some help. He was too busy. I was 17. In my memory, he told me to fuck off. I like that memory, it gels with how I felt about it at the time. In reality, he probably was a lot kinder than that.
In any case. I messaged him on Twitter. He only has a few hundred followers. He has a blue checkmark, but on closer inspection, Twitter reports that “This account is verified because it’s subscribed to Twitter Blue,’ He only has a few hundred followers, but who knows. Maybe he kept a low profile on Twitter. Maybe…
And this is the beginning of how Musk’s Twitter is starting to fall apart. An editor I admire used to shout “Words have meaning!” as he slapped a sheaf of papers onto a desk. The accuracy in the words matter. Sure, you can be playful and lead the reader on a couple of laps around the club, (see what I did there, now you’re thinking about laps and clubs. Your mind, not mine.) But iconography has meaning!
Changing a blue check that used to mean “we know who this person is with some degree of accuracy” to “we charged this person money” is bad for two reasons; It turns out that some people are more notable than others. There was a reason that the previous president continued to go by @RealDonaldTrump long after @DonaldTrump or even just @Trump became available. The man had to be so really-real that even the oval office and all the blue checks in the world couldn’t feed his ego sufficiently to just go by @Trump. I say this as someone who went to extraordinary lengths to become @Haje.
The much more important point, however, is that the voices we most need on Twitter are the ones who shouldn’t have to pay to get that check mark — Twitter should be paying them. Taking a token of trust and flicking it upside down is not just short-sighted; it undermines the whole reason that we occasionally still see glimmers of hope from a tweeting populace. Flawed as it is, I’d rather have it around as a billion hyper-customized and decimated-by-the-algo tatters, than to see it fade away as that aforementioned first casualty. Make your money, sure — but keep an eye on what matters, too.