Twitter Verified: the blue checkmark that can cost $60,000 a year

In writing The Trouble with Twitter: Trolls, Verifications removed & Stock failing, I hunted around the internet to learn more about the Twitter Verified process. Countless articles later, I still know that my journalists friends were verified because they were contacted by someone they sort of knew at twitter - regardless of journalistic experience, byline-numbers or even the level of followers as a handful will do. I could show you a few examples but I don't want to be singling people out for something only Twitter has control over. That, and everyone who has received the magic checkmark hold their cards as close to their chest as Twitter does. But then I also found this article at Digitaltrends, where they explain how they lost their blue checkmark. They stopped advertising on Twitter. When they reached out for an explanation of where their Verified mark vanished to, Twitter responded to them with this:

“Verification is something we offer our active advertisers meeting the $5K/month minimum spend associated with our Platform Partnership.”
“…If you were to re-visit Promoted Products further down the road and were able to meet that $5K/month minimum, this verification would be reinstated.”

Even Adage writes that to get a Twitter verified account, you can buy ads for $15000.

Those little blue "verified" check marks have become status symbols. And while verified accounts aren't officially for sale, Twitter advertisers who spend a minimum of $15,000 over three months can get one, according to a media publisher who has been trying to get his magazine's account verified.

So it's clear, the ways you get verified at Twitter is either is via that mystery friend at Twitter, or the magical "twitter picked you" because you are Kim Kardashian, or you simply pay your way to the blue checkmark. But as Digitaltrends discovered twitter can still remove your checkmark when you stop advertising. So it's not just Milo Yiannopoulos who gets his checkmark revoked, while Twitter points to their rules and decline to further elaborate on what he did wrong, Digitaltrends lost theirs because they didn't pay the 'protection money' so to speak. I wonder, Does Kim Kardashian and Madonna pay for their marks? I bet not.

Now, if the mark costs $5000 a month to keep, that's $60,000 a year. The median household income in the United states is $51,939. That's for a household. A company could employ someone and they'd have a decent salary at $60,000 a year, and Twitter wants you to piss this away on online twitter ads. What's the ROI on Twitter ads? Wall Street Journal reported that advertisers questioned the ROI in April this year, as Twitter 'is still in the process of proving out return-on-investment'. Marketers aren't convinced that Twitter ads have an effect on their sales, and the "buy now" button that Twitter rolled out is not a gravy train for brands, and only moves the online store into Twitter's app. While it's possible this works well for online retailers, they used to just tweet their product links for free. We've known since 2011 that trending on twitter has the pricetag $120,000, which is twice the median household income in the US. With price-tags like this for "media" that is barely noticed by even the Twitter obsessed, it feels like we're paying for every Twitter employees' ludicrous San Francisco rent instead of investing in our marketing and our brands. Is that really a sensible way to use your budget?

Meanwhile at Huffington Post, an article headlined Thank You Twitter - By Unverifying Milo Yiannopoulos, You Are Standing Up for Women Online, explains that 'this is not a freedom of speech issue', and the internet has become 'a scary place to be a woman'. I'm not sure if the author is first day on the internet kid, but I've missed the memo that says I should hope to be saved from trolls by the male creators of an app instead of using the "mute" or "block" buttons already in place. Perhaps as a woman, my twenty years on the internet running this website has given me perspective.

Now, that "free speech" thing, many of my old Twitter friends have complained how they miss the friendly chatting of 2007, when jokes were had and strangers connected on the network. Most of us recall how Twitter as a tool was used to organise people during the Arab Spring in 2011, which scared the Egyptian government so much they blocked access to Facebook and Twitter, and finally the entire internet. (Adgeeks may recall how Vodaphone seemed to take credit for the revolution in an cringe-inducing case study award show clip.) The twitter network was used to spread news, start protests, keep people informed when national media did not, and to reach out to the rest of the world with citizen journalism on what was happening. The governments targeted certainly didn't like this speech - but that was free speech. And so is Milo's sarcastic jokes. Twitter isn't a townhall or town square though, it's a private corporation that can police the speech on their virtual property any way they see fit. The problem today is that we use digital squares, owned by corporations, as our town halls of yore, because that's how our social world has evolved.

Today Twitter is so eager to "counter abuse" it becomes abusive. Twitter is policing snarks and jokes reported to them, while leaving scores of false information posing as actual news floating around. According to Euromaiden Twitter’s new policy has been misused by pro-Kremlin accounts to block Ukrainian bloggers. CNN reports that Syrian jihadists are using Twitter to recruit foreign fighters. Photographs from past tragedies trend under the the hashtag of a current tragedy, serving as propaganda to those too naive to realize that not everything on Twitter is true. Trolls now catfish journalists on a daily basis for sport. By early 2014 the Toxic Twitter Wars of feminism was already crippling the previously open discussion and exchange of ideas in the women's movement.

What happened to change our "local pub" feeling we used to have at Twitter and turned it into a maelstrom of daily outrage storms? Was the tipping point in 2013 when Justine Sacco was bullied by a Gawker-led online mob? Is that when the friendly pub mass of people changed into digital hooligans?

Articles like this tend to end on ideas on how to remedy the situation, but I don't work for free, and have done enough weeding of spam accounts for Twitter since 2006 without even a blue checkmark in return. Now my tweets are filtered from view by Twitter, or blocked by crude filters less tech-savvy people are conned into using, so I don't even reach the followers I have carefully cultivated over a ten year period anymore. It's already bad enough that Twitter is increasingly like "rattling a stick in a swill bucket", and we don't know if anyone can hear us. But to make matters worse, we now know that Twitter can arbitrarily remove our checkmarks, filter our tweets and basically blackmail brands to waste money on Twitter ads. When tweeting emoji jokes sets off the permanently-offended-mob, Twitter is an increasingly unattractive place for brands to be.

As with every article concerning Twitter, we've reached out to Twitter for comment, but have gotten no response.
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Rose MacAllen's picture

You're absolutely right. These days, if you're a woman (or a man and align yourself with the power elite), know someone at Twitter, and are worried that someone may hurt your feefees, you can get them off Twitter. For disagreeing with someone on the need to impose curfews on "cis white men" during tech conferences (she suggested we make conferences "minority and women only" after 7pm), I had to first endure a host of harassment, then the insinuation I wasn't female (or controlled by the patriarchy), then was doxxed (there comes my abusive ex, but at least it's clear now that I am a woman), and finally my account on Twitter was closed by Twitter, because you do not cross Brianna Wu, apparently.

Twitter lost me 70% of my traffic, the fact that Twitter did nothing to remove the doxxing, the calls to kill myself, the insinuations I (MD, PhD, working in the neuropsych field) that I am stupid and easily controlled, didn't get anyone reprimanded. But disagreeing, courteously, with a friend of the Tweetverse, that had immediate repercussions.

Maybe it's time to simply admit that we've swapped obscurity for being controlled by a bunch of corporations with agendas that extend far beyond a profit motive.

Andrew's picture

Great article and interesting first comment, but my eyebrows did rise a bit when I saw:

Submitted by Rose MacAllen (not verified)

Rose, you need to pay the 60k!

Gareth Hart's picture

"Twitter isn't a townhall or town square though, it's a private corporation that can police the speech on their virtual property any way they see fit."

As can any ISP, and private enterprise is the only way to get Internet access in the UK with the odd exception (ie. NHS Wi-Fi access and they'll likely outsource the infrastructure to a private company). My ISP has a acceptable use policy which states "While using any of our Services you must comply with the relevant laws that apply in the United Kingdom. You must not use any part of our Services to... send, publish, distribute, circulate or otherwise propagate any material that is threatening, invasive of privacy, discriminatory, defamatory, racist, obscene, indecent, offensive, abusive, harmful or malicious". The same rules which are being abused by individuals with a vendetta against people who are using the said rules to get people to lose their verified status or Twitter access on their virtual property can also revoke your Internet access via the ISP's virtual property.

At a time when the UK Government is imposing more responsibilities onto privately run ISP's to keep data and close the accounts of individuals who are partaking in such negative activity, whilst the Government holds their hands up and say "not a free speech issue, this action is being done by a private company". A worrying, illiberal situation where more and more Government services, avenues for speech and discussion is being moved online.

Bitterbear's picture

Sometimes I wonder if Twitter's true clients are the governments now. Not the user base, not the advertisers, not the companies at all. Any other corporation with such blatant loses would have gotten their executive board sacked a long time ago.

Ivan's picture

'If you are not paying for it, you're not the customer; you're the product being sold' - Andrew Lewis

Dabitch's picture

@Gareth Hart, who brings up a very interesting point about how our lives are on the web now, which is operated by private companies, and how we interact with our governments via the private company-operated web-roads established. At a conference Internetdagarna, this was actually discussed at length with a panel of politicians and security experts, how much metadata are we allowing to leak out in interacting with the various websites, can packet sniffers see who we are and why we're logging in at the IRS? Will cookies track which pages at the medical center sites we read? (Note: In Sweden where most things are government centralized and everything is on the internet, following one individual with keylogging would potentially give you all of their information in no time at all). How should the Internet be governed in the future? How should the openness of the Internet be guaranteed and how can we meet potential information security threats?

Much like when we moved off shopping on the highstreet and into the private property malls, we forget that we give up the freedom of assembly and freedom of speech at the doors of these private entities. You can give out protest-fliers on the highstreet to no shoppers at all, or be led out of the mall of america where all the shoppers are, when you attempt to protest there. This is happening on the internet now. Collecting all your eggs in one basket, with a handful of major corporate owners, when the fundamental idea of the internet was a decentralized network is the antithesis of the original "cyberspace" idea.

C4Cypher's picture


Travis's picture

Corporations shouldn't be allowed to police free speech imo. They rival governments and are global entities in many cases.

But can I just say one thing, because it's been bothering me for awhile even though it's incredibly politically incorrect.

I've noticed most of these complaints come from feminists and women. I know that men are feminists as well, but it appears that women can claim they are being harassed for being disagreed with or criticized and get people not only censored but bullied and harassed by their own followers. This is never discussed either how SJWs harass people, go after their jobs, etc. Women use men's instinct to protect women from being harmed to manipulate them into censoring free speech and bullying people. Like that guy in Canada who is facing 6 months in prison for disagreeing with a feminist on Twitter. And because he was banned from using computers while this case is ongoing, he lost his job and this case has been going on for a couple of years. That scares me to be honest, because it's humans right abuse imo. You're infringing on someone's right to make a living.

When are women going to stop using the I'm a poor, helpless girl act to get special treatment? You can't say you want equality then go to such lengths to make women look like helpless victims that need to be coddled and protected like children, which is exactly what feminists make women seem like.

MPugner's picture

"Collecting all your eggs in one basket, with a handful of major corporate owners, when the fundamental idea of the internet was a decentralized network is the antithesis of the original "cyberspace" idea."

Well said. Makes me wonder if there will eventually be a fundamental shift of things or if there will just be a cycle of these sites overstepping or becoming 'too corporate' and being replaced by more open/hip entities who eventually morph into the things that they replaced, due to what Ivan alludes to.

Dabitch's picture

It's an interesting thing how that cycle happens, isn't it? Just as fascinating as deregulation creating monopolies when the opposite is expected.

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