Elon Musk’s long-promised move to strip free blue ticks from Twitter users swung into action on Thursday, dividing the have-paids from the have-nots.
Like some kind of fable in which the chosen few ascend to a higher plane, accounts with a Twitter Verified check began rising above the rest — a rapture that left most of us behind.
Casualty number one: The Pope, the faith of whose 18.8 million followers will be tested by the absence of a blue badge on the @Pontifex account.
But across the religious board, the Dalai Lama remained at one with his blue check.
“Verified account,” beams a pop-up box when you hover over His Holiness’s tick.
“This account is verified because they are subscribed to Twitter Blue and verified their phone number.”
Musk, whose chaotic takeover of Twitter has seen his $44 billion (roughly Rs. 3,61,512 crore) investment shrivel, earlier pledged to get rid of what he described as a “lords & peasants system,” in which journalists, celebrities and politicians were given a mark that supposedly meant their accounts could be trusted.
He offered instead to sell the blue badge to anyone who would pay $8 a month (roughly Rs. 650), in a move he said last year would “democratize journalism & empower the voice of the people.”
On Thursday high-profile accounts, as well as those of many reporters at AFP and other news organizations, appeared to have had their checkmarks removed.
“I’m naked!” quipped one reporter when she discovered the once-coveted tick had gone.
But it wasn’t just the chatterati and the hoi polloi who found themselves uncovered.
Bona fide celebrities with huge followings were going about the Twitterverse unclothed.
Horror for Stephen King
Singer Selena Gomez and her 67 million followers: out of tune.
Basketball wizard Steph Curry (17.3 million): out of bounds.
But almost as if there was some grand plan, some scheme to bring order and balance to the universe, each action appeared to have an opposite reaction.
Musical megastar Rihanna: still lifting up her 108.3 million followers.
Los Angeles hoops legend LeBron James and his 52.7 million followers: swish.
The Great Sorting appeared to have no respect for families, with one particularly famous US clan divided.
Ivanka and Don Trump Jr. still revelled in their blue badge, but Eric Trump no longer had his, and neither did his dad, former president Donald Trump.
(The account — which Twitter says he can use again — in any case remains preserved in petulant aspic with a January 8, 2021 posting: “To all those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th.”)
No area of celebrity life seemed unaffected by the removal of the ticks.
Even Harry Potter creator JK Rowling was reduced to slumming it with the rest of us, her 14 million followers left to divine for themselves whether it was really her or Lord Voldemort at the keyboard.
But everything was maybe not as it seemed.
Fellow wordsmith Stephen King, who had previously vowed he would never cough up, even telling Musk that Twitter should instead be paying him to post, appeared horrified to discover that he still had his blue check.
“My Twitter account says I’ve subscribed to Twitter Blue. I haven’t,” he fumed.
“My Twitter account says I’ve given a phone number. I haven’t.”
Twitter’s troll-in-chief Musk said in response to a news article about the check marks that he was “paying for a few personally,” and replied to King’s message with “You’re welcome namaste.”
The Verge reported that LeBron James’s account was also the beneficiary of the entrepreneur’s (possibly unwanted) largesse.
The tech outlet said a Twitter employee had emailed James — who has insisted he would not pay for a tick — to “extend a complimentary subscription… on behalf of Elon Musk.”