Opening up Twitter today, there’s a lot of anger. Following the change of yesterday, blue ticks as they were may be gone but true colours are being shown right now.
Journalists, celebrities, influencers, and anyone who had the former privilege of a verified account are all shouting out in anger. Their usual breezy personas and carefully crafted online identities are all thrown into disarray. Because losing that tick is more than just verification – it’s status, it’s a culture, and it’s the well-defined line between “us” and “them”.
Load up Twitter today and ranting tweets are filling up timelines with various digitally mediated attacks; mocking those who have “actually paid” for a Twitter Blue subscription. There are two reasons for this: one is the official line and the other is something deeper. It’s personal; it’s neoliberal and it hurts the hierarchy. They had their status and now it has been taken away.
The official line amid all of this anger is that these former blue tick people are angry because they can no longer be verified; they’re worried about misinformation or being impersonated. It is perhaps these people who are the greatest critics of Twitter Blue. They don’t believe that paying for a subscription is a “real” blue tick. People who do so are stereotyped as “stupid” or lesser in some way. After all, by bringing everyday people into the world of blue ticks, there is no longer an aesthetic division between us.
So invalidating those who pay for a blue tick is a logical tactic. It dehumanises these people, and makes them appear as a bit “simple” or egotistical in some way. Blur the lines between different social classes and this is what happens. Everyone had their place before; it was stable and understood. So when those positions become threatened, it’s going to hit hard. Especially for those who believe that they are of greater worth than someone with a handle of followers. It’s that fickle.
We cannot underestimate what the blue tick symbolised before Twitter Blue subscriptions came into play. For years, the blue tick has been widely understood and normalised as the distinction between those at the heights of success and the average Joes. More so than likes, or follower counts, the blue tick is or at least was the absolute peak of Twitter’s success. It’s the ultimate symbol of worth in a neoliberal attention economy that saturates almost every aspect of our online lives.
Hierarchies have always been at the absolute centre of Twitter, and they remain so today. The only difference with this change is that those who were previously granted high-status positions solely based on their identity must now pay for them. Just like the rest of us. It’s not about affordability for those who have money, it’s the principle of being treated like everyone else. People who they perceive as beneath them in the class hierarchy. People who have less, people without status. On the other hand – and this is a valid argument – there is anger from everyday folk too. Those who use Twitter but maybe cannot afford to pay for Twitter Blue which is more relatable. After all, for many of us, it’s costly and not just financially.
I’ll be completely honest, we do have a Twitter Blue subscription for Aunty Social World’s Twitter. Because right now she’s young and as we’ve seen of late, we’re in a state of algorithmic anarchy. Building a following or movement doesn’t come easy in the world of Twitter today.
Yet where we are now in an era of attacks coming in from both the privileged elite, enraged at the peasantry being offered the same as them, or our allies blocking and mocking us; I think the argument missing from all of this is that for some of us, we need Twitter to survive.
If budgeting for a blue tick helps in the world Twitter has become today, then so be it. Because not all of us have countless options open to us, we are mired in a status-driven attention economy that doesn’t care who is disabled or who is in need. Attention isn’t always about ego, it’s quite often survival.
Whether you are a proponent of this change, or angered by it, what we can agree on is that Twitter is changing and for now, none of us truly understand where it is going. But coming together and resisting the urge to attack others, will help collectivism in the future. Because attention economies are already highly individualised and divisive; blue tick or not, that hasn’t changed. But we can stand against this by coming together.
An earlier version of this article was published on Aunty Social World.
Laura Barrett is an MSc student with a research specialism in cyberpsychology and online communities.