Twitter’s blue check mark was once a coveted status symbol. Now, some users are calling it “the dreaded mark” or that “stinking badge.”
Last week, Twitter began stripping the verification symbols from the profiles of thousands of celebrities, media personalities and politicians. The shift came as Elon Musk, the company’s chief executive, continued to roll out Twitter Blue, a subscription service that offers special features like tweet-editing in addition to the blue badge — for $8 a month.
Now that anyone can purchase a blue check, many users find the symbol newly uncool. The icon makes its owner appear “desperate for validation,” according to the rapper Doja Cat. To others, it signals support for Mr. Musk amid his bumpy takeover of the platform. Users who value the symbol enough to pay for it are being shouted over by a chorus of prominent users who say verification is no longer worth it.
Can the blue check remain desirable now that it has lost its air of exclusivity?
“The idea that you would pay for status, and that it’s something that’s not conferred upon you, seems to be fundamentally undesirable for people who have status,” said Robyn Caplan, a senior researcher at the Data & Society Research Institute.
Jacob Sartorius, 20, a musician and content creator, said he was elated to get a blue check in 2016. “It was an honor. It was kind of a symbol of, wow, something’s happening,” he said.
Mr. Sartorius said he would now rather spend $8 on a sandwich from Subway than on Twitter Blue. “It’s not something that’s cool anymore,” he said.
Twitter users’ self-consciousness when it comes to their blue checks speaks to the symbol’s evolution from a tool designed to prevent impersonation into a fickle marker of cultural relevance.
Twitter introduced verification badges in 2009 during what Dr. Caplan called the “red carpet era” of social media, when companies were trying to coax celebrities and brands onto their platforms. The badges reassured public figures that they would not be impersonated, and the recognition served as an ego boost.
Because so many public figures received badges, and the faceless masses did not, jockeying for verification became something of a blood sport — and the blue check a symbol of victory. Guides proliferated online advising users on how to gain entry to the club.
Mr. Musk sought to undermine that two-tiered approach, which he called a “lords & peasants system.” He has framed Twitter Blue as a move to democratize the platform.
Waves of blue-check paranoia began to sweep across the platform last year, when Mr. Musk said he would soon start removing check marks from users’ profiles. After allowing the expected judgment day to come and go at the start of this month, Mr. Musk began removing the badges on April 20. (Mr. Musk has long shown an affinity for the number 420, which is often used to allude to marijuana, once dropping it into a tweet that landed him in hot water with the Securities and Exchange Commission.)
Mr. Musk did not respond to a request for comment, and an email to Twitter’s communications department was automatically replied to with a poop emoji.
Last Thursday’s purge began to change the meaning of the symbol almost within hours. Then it shifted again, when blue checks reappeared on prominent accounts over the weekend.
Mr. Sartorius said he was annoyed when his blue check mysteriously reappeared, because he was worried that his followers would think he had paid for Twitter Blue. Checks also popped up on the accounts of LeBron James, Stephen King and Paul Dochney, who posts as @dril, all of whom said they would not pay for verification. (Mr. Musk said he was paying for “a few” Twitter Blue accounts himself, including Mr. James’s.)
Some were able to ditch them. The comedian Patton Oswalt said he had rid himself of his by changing his display name. Mr. Sartorius said he might do the same. Chrissy Teigen called her blue check a form of “punishment,” and said she eventually got rid of it.
Travis Brown, a software developer who has been tracking subscriptions on the site, estimated that between 615,000 and 650,000 accounts currently have Twitter Blue verification, and that, as of last Thursday, around 4.8 percent of accounts verified under the previous system had Blue verification. He also estimated that about 8,000 accounts verified under the previous system had been gifted Blue verification.
Those who did not regain their verification venture on, checkless, into a murky future. Adam Richman, 48, who hosts television shows about food, lost his check on Thursday. He said that the badge no longer functioned as an effective authenticator and that he was not interested in wearing it as a status symbol.
“If my little cousin, who’s 8 years old, can get a blue check mark, what’s the point?” he said.