How big techs’ paid blue checkmarks will affect the creator economy

Dennis Da-ala Mirilla
How big tech paid blue checkmarks will affect the creator economy

Riding a wave of populism, late last year, Twitter’s new owner Elon Musk said he had come to break the backbone of what he described as the “current lords & peasants system for who has or doesn’t have a blue checkmark.” He proposed that anyone who wanted to keep their blue checkmark on the microblogging platform would have to pay a monthly eight dollars for a premium account called Twitter Blue.

By so doing, he opened the floodgates to anyone interested in owning a verified account and could afford it to grab the opportunity. Days later, record numbers of verified accounts impersonating high-profile brands, including PepsiCo, Nintendo, and the American basketball player LeBron James among others, emerged on the platform.

Meta’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, announced this past weekend that its flagship social networks, Instagram and Facebook, have started testing a similar product. Zuckerberg, in a blog post, said that the feature comes with “increased visibility and reach” and is now available in “Australia and New Zealand starting later this week,” with “a monthly subscription for (USD) $11.99 on the web and (USD) $14.99 on iOS and Android.”

“As we test and learn, there will be no changes to accounts on Instagram and Facebook that are already verified based on prior requirements, including authenticity and notability. Long term, we want to build a subscription offering that’s valuable to everyone, including creators, businesses and our community at large. As part of this vision, we are evolving the meaning of the verified badge so we can expand access to verification and more people can trust the accounts they interact with are authentic,” Zuckerberg added.

How big techs' paid blue checkmarks will affect the creator economy
How big tech paid blue checkmarks will affect the creator economy

The rise of the blue checkmark

In 2009, when Twitter was just a fledgling startup, Tony La Russa, the manager of the American professional baseball team St Louis Cardinals, sued the company after being impersonated on the platform. To solve the problem, the company’s owners at the time introduced the blue check verification to reduce impersonation and fake accounts on the platform. Other social media companies soon followed suit.

For a time, it was successful. But over time, it gave blue check users some celebrity cache and a symbol of importance on the internet. So when Musk said he would roll out a new product for all users looking to be verified to pay for it, it seemed like a move to balance the scale.

There are opportunities for these social media companies as investors breathe down their necks overspending that hasn’t resulted in profits.

Since early last year, tech companies have been bleeding cash, the residue of overhiring at times and other times overspending on ambitious projects like Meta’s $13.7 billion bet on augmented reality. Investors have begun to speak openly about not being interested in funding projects without clear paths to profitability. Profits from advertising have also been declining as more competitors like Netflix and Uber come into the scene.

Read also: What Elon Musk’s Twitter monetisation for creators could look like

Paid verification is already finding a customer base on Twitter. This is partly because the concept of human beings clinging to markers that distinguished them from the crowd has been with us for years.

A new report from the Bank of America projected that Meta’s new Verified subscription service for Facebook and Instagram could see nearly 12 million subscribers by 2024. The research adds that the service could prove popular for influencers, creators and businesses, helping Meta score $1.7 billion “in high-margin revenue in 2024.”

Man’s exclusivity for exclusivity

In pre-modern communities, titled men walked the streets in fancy adornment, signifying their importance. But internet frolickers want to replicate that experience on a two-dimensional screen in an increasingly digital world.

For a while, Ethereum wallet owners have had the option of paying a hundred dollars for the ENS domain, a costume domain of their choosing, rather than the string of numbers other users get. For such users, this paid verification feature offers a part towards that experience.

How big techs' paid blue checkmarks will affect the creator economy.
How Musk’s new $8 verification plan could mean chaos for Twitter

But this move could backfire in the face of these social media companies. For one, the problems with verification that birthed the blue check system in the first place could return. The idea of users paying for the blue check verification defeats the events surrounding its invention.

While it created the upper and lower echelon digital society, it was important for the creators who uploaded the content that saw these platforms flourish to remain rewarded with an exclusive identification. The distinction served as a type of reward for these creators. But more so, the creators have had to spend years being adept at manoeuvring the algorithms of these platforms to reach a wider audience with their content.

That model could come crashing down. Already Facebook, in the blog post, said users with Meta Verified accounts will have “increased visibility and reach with prominence in some areas of the platform– like search, comments and recommendations.” While Twitter hasn’t said it would roll out a similar feature for users who subscribe to Twitter Blue, reports reveal that Elon Musk has been working on a feature that allows certain users more visibility and a wider reach on the platform, which he has tested with his own account.

How big techs' paid blue checkmarks will affect the creator economy

This begs the question, then, why should a creator put so much work into their content if other users who pay for these paid verified accounts get more visibility and reach than they do?

Bottomline

The incentive of the social media companies that have defined this moment in human civilization compels users to confess their mess, to invite the world to bare witness to how great or bad their lives are. Now the model invites users looking for acceptance into that club for a fee.

While the current system has maligned less famous people on the platform by denying them the blue check, it is a system that, when applied ethically, fights impersonation and incentivizes creators to put out their best work.

With this paid verification model, the future of that system is left hanging.


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