Farewell Blue Ticks, and all they stood for

Nick Hilton
6 min readMar 28


Twitter storm in a teacup?

Twitter has a revenue problem, and that problem is about to become your problem.

Elon Musk, the site’s new owner and a man thrashing about in the oceanic depths looking for a life raft, has announced that the legacy verification system is ending in April. Blue ticks — the site’s previously coveted verification system — will henceforth be exclusive to Twitter Blue, it’s paid premium service, subscribers

Whatever: this is his prerogative as the new leader of the business’s direction. I received a blue tick many years ago (2018, I think) and it has been a net gain to me. I didn’t deserve it — no-one was pretending to be me online, so I gained no practical support from the verification — but it afforded me credibility and a more prominent placement in people’s notifications. So it had a material value to me, and that’s a value that Twitter wants to exploit. Anyone who is pretending that their “legacy” blue tick (as the non-Twitter Blue blue ticks are now branded) is for security purposes, is deceiving themselves. The blue tick has always been about status.

And it makes sense to want to sell status. It is, after all, the most tangible product that Twitter has. You can’t sell tweets at this point, and they’ve somewhat self-immolated their ability to sell advertising. And so selling status seems a logical next step. There are, however, two really obvious problems:

Firstly, Twitter has always had a massively outsized influence on the public discourse. This, as Elon Musk knows, is because it is a site used disproportionately by politicians and policy makers, CEOs and technologists, journalists and broadcasters. Data at the start of the year put Facebook’s global user reach at close to 3 billion, YouTube’s at 2.5bn, Instagram’s at 2bn and TikTok’s at 1bn. Twitter, meanwhile, was languishing down with Pinterest at 556 million. I, personally, don’t have any friends from outside the world of journalism who regularly tweet. A couple will have accounts to follow breaking news (particularly from the world of sports) but no “regular” folk who are putting out their thoughts.

But its strength has always been as a central forum for bigwigs. Stories have regularly broken on Twitter, and just as regularly been generated by Twitter; Presidents have used it as a comms device and CEOs have tanked share prices with reckless output. And that outsized influence has been carefully cultivated through the massaging of egos, the gently rubbed patina of status. It’s been achieved by giving idiots, like me, blue ticks.

There is a new citizen of blue tick land, the Twitter Blue blue ticker. In the couple of months since the service has been rolled out, I’ve been caught out, on a number of occasions, by an inadvertent shock at something a “verified” user has posted. Really? I’d think to myself. Someone credible is tweeting something that deranged? And then, of course, I’d check and — without fail — they’d be Twitter Blue rather than Legacy.

This is not to say there are not fine folk amongst the Twitter Blue subscribers. Many of you may have signed up to the service. But presenting it as a verification service is wrong. It might allow Twitter to have a credit card on file to trace the vilest hate speech, but for most people who just tweet garbage there is nothing about it that will offer a check or a balance. My blue tick — for which I submitted a copy of my driver’s license — guarantees (in my head at least) that I am not going to tweet anything that would be to the obvious detriment of my career. The Twitter Blue blue tick means nothing. It has no inherent status, and once the Legacy blue ticks are gone, it won’t even have that chimeric presence, that momentary confusion. No-one will mistake a Twitter Blue blue tick for a Legacy blue tick, because the latter will no longer exist. In point of fact, the blue tick might come to have a negative connotation: how lame — how beta, to use the internet parlance — would you have to be to pay for meaningless Twitter verification?

The second obvious error is the fact that Musk has said that the For You bar, a recent addition to the Twitter homepage, will exclusively show the tweets of Twitter Blue subscribers. This does add a material value to a Twitter Blue subscription, for sure. But the For You bar is already ruining the Twitter UX, and it’s about to become a hundred times worse. In fact, if a blue tick becomes a mark of shame, then presence on the For You page is equally humiliating. But above all else, it’s just a move that doesn’t appreciate the Twitter consumer’s journey. Twitter is, after all, as much (if not more) a mechanism for consuming as it is for broadcasting. People who only want to be heard, and not to hear, will never be the best users of the service. And in the attempt to convert gobshites and bullshitters into paying subscribers, they are materially damaging the consumer journey. I think it is really important to remember the simple fact that Twitter only has value as a broadcast mechanism because it has a large percentage of its user base who are read-only. What, in the Twitter Blue announcements, is for them? What is improving the experience of finding the best, most relevant, content on Twitter?

I don’t think these issues are irreparable, and, unlike many of my journalistic peers, I don’t think that the Twitter Blue programme is necessarily a bad idea. But Twitter must, first and foremost, cultivate status. It is the site’s clearest currency.

There’s a theory, in economics, of the Veblen good; something for which regular laws of supply and demand do not apply. A Veblen good, like a Birkin bag or Bugatti supercar, are unmoored from usual economics. The higher the price goes up, the more the demand rises. Counter-intuitive though this is in economic terms, it has very simple roots in human psychology: a Birkin bag is desirable because it is exclusive. Part of the reason it’s exclusive is because it’s prohibitively expensive. Ergo more people want it because of the higher price point. If Luis Vuitton started selling $20 handbags at TK Maxx, they would shift a lot of product in the first few months, but the long term damage to the brand would be enormous. Luis Vuitton is Luis Vuitton because Luis Vuitton is expensive.

Twitter verification has long been something of a Veblen good, a sort-of digital gentleman’s club, from which the riffraff are blackballed. That may be bad from the perspective of prioritising paid users (a natural and good impulse for any business) but it is also the reason why Twitter has been such a dominant cultural force, despite a relatively petite active user base.

There has to be a way of retaining that status element, while affording paid members new privileges. Within a few months of the April switch, the blue tick will be entirely devalued as a sellable product. When Twitter Blue users come to re-subscribe, in a year’s time, are they really going to want to keep shelling out for an icon that no longer means what it used to? Which no longer has the connotations of power and influence? It’s short-sighted to sell off your prestige for immediate cashflow, just as it would be short-sighted for Luis Vuitton to sell handbags for twenty bucks.

But there are lots of services that Twitter Blue could provide. How about a columnn in your @s for “Blue Only”, so that subcribers would get more prominent placement when replying (they could even be pushed to the top of non-follower replies on any tweet)? How about giving them a special column in DMs? How about a sidebar on the homepage called “Best of Blue” suggesting Twitter Blue accounts to follow? All you need to do is offer a couple of UX perks and, perhaps, a predicted 10% acceleration of follower count, and that service has a material value. A material value that won’t decline the minute everyone turns up to the same tupperware party with identical Luis Vuitton handbags.

For now, I’ll be sticking around Twitter. And who knows, maybe I’ll subscribe to Twitter Blue. As I’ve always said, the checkmark has a material value to my business. But I suspect that I might be one of the few — the disreputable few — in my profession who does. And soon enough, Twitter might be a functional meritocracy. That’s a nice idea, but not a financially viable one. The husk of a post-status Twitter could be indistinguishable from Reddit, from Discord, even *shudder* from Clubhouse.

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Nick Hilton

Writer. Media entrepreneur. London. Interested in technology and the media. Co-founder podotpods.com Email: nick@podotpods.com.