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Twitter promotes a new monthly subscription that will verify accounts

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Twitter has started advertising a new monthly subscription that includes a blue checkmark, which is the symbol that indicates the platform has verified a user's identity.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The notice reads power to the people. It is the first major product launch under the social media company's new owner, Elon Musk. Musk has so far gutted Twitter's workforce and also promised over the weekend to permanently suspend anybody impersonating somebody else on Twitter. Many people on Twitter have been pretending to be Elon Musk.

MARTIN: NPR's Raquel Maria Dillon is here to tell us what all these changes could mean, especially so close to the end of the midterm elections. Good morning, Rachel.

RAQUEL MARIA DILLON, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: OK. Explain what exactly is included in this subscription service.

DILLON: Right now, when you see a little checkmark on Twitter, it means Twitter has verified the identity of the person behind that account, that they are who they say they are. So that's how we know @rachelnpr is really you and you're tweeting on behalf of yourself and NPR.

MARTIN: Right.

DILLON: Very soon, anyone will be able to get a verification checkmark if they pay $8 a month for the Twitter Blue subscription service. It would make your tweets more visible in other users' feeds as well. Elon Musk tweeted last night that, quote, "widespread verification will democratize journalism and empower the voice of the people." However, the new verification product isn't quite ready for primetime. The New York Times reported that Twitter Blue with verification won't roll out until after Election Day.

MARTIN: OK. So you have to pay for a verified checkmark. But does that do anything to decrease fraud on the platform?

DILLON: Well, people are very concerned about that, especially at this moment. I've been speaking to civil rights activists and tech watchdog groups all weekend, and they are freaked out. One of them is a former product manager at Twitter. Eddie Perez left in September, and now he's on the board of the OSET Institute, which does nonpartisan research on election technology. He said Musk's idea of Twitter as a digital public square is quaint because the stakes are just much higher.

EDDIE PEREZ: A social media platform like Twitter is a landscape for information warfare. It is adversarial. We know that there are nation-state actors that are trying to distort and manipulate the platform. They're trying to spread disinformation.

DILLON: Perez says content moderation is complicated, labor intensive. And at Twitter during elections, people from other teams pitch in. So you can't just cut staffing in half and maintain the same level of service.

MARTIN: Right - 3,700 people - I mean, that's a lot of folks, many of whom I assume were in the business of content moderation.

DILLON: Well, it's too soon to say what the actual effects are. But here's just one observation from Common Cause, the nonpartisan government watchdog group. I spoke to an analyst there, and she said there is a lag lately when they report disinformation to Twitter. Usually, Twitter staffers are responsive so close to elections, but now they've gone dark. Twitter's head of safety and security tweeted some reassurances. He said a smaller portion of content moderation staffers lost their jobs, 15% laid off in his department as opposed to an average of 50% organization wide. But, you know, this is Elon Musk here, so it does get weird. Multiple news outlets are reporting that Twitter is asking some folks they laid off on Friday to come back. It just goes to show how hasty this downsizing was.

MARTIN: Yeah. NPR's Raquel Maria Dillon. Thanks, Raquel.

DILLON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Raquel Maria Dillon
Raquel Maria Dillon has worked on both sides of the country, on both sides of the mic, at Member stations and now as an editor with Morning Edition. She specializes in documenting wildfires and other national disasters, translating the intricacies of policy into plain English and explaining the implications of climate change.