SAN FRANCISCO – Twitter on Saturday launched a $7.99-a-month subscription service that includes a blue check now issued to verified accounts as new owner Elon Musk overhauls the platform’s verification system ahead of the U.S. midterm elections.

In an update for Apple iOS devices, Twitter said users who “sign up now” can get a blue tick next to their names, “just like celebrities, companies and politicians you already follow.” So far, verified accounts are not losing checks.

Anyone who can get hold of the blue check could lead to confusion and increased misinformation ahead of Tuesday’s election, when would-be imposters pay for subscriptions and use the names of politicians and election officials. Along with the mass layoffs that began Friday, many fear that the social platform used by government agencies, election commissions, police departments and news outlets to reliably inform people could become illegal if moderation and content checks are lifted.

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The change marks the end of Twitter’s current verification system, which was launched in 2009 to prevent impersonation of the accounts of famous people such as celebrities and politicians. Before the overhaul, Twitter had about 423,000 verified accounts, many of which were ordinary journalists from around the world who were verified by the company regardless of how many followers they had.

Experts have raised serious concerns about the change to the platform’s verification system, which, while not perfect, helped Twitter’s 238 million daily users determine whether the accounts they were getting information from were real.

Twitter’s update to the iOS version of its app doesn’t mention verification as part of the new blue verification system.

Musk, who has previously said he wants to “verify all people” on Twitter, said public figures will be identified in ways other than a blue check. Currently, for example, government officials are identified by text under their names stating that they are posting from an official government account.

For example, President Joe Biden’s @POTUS account says in gray letters that it belongs to “an employee of the United States government.”

The change comes a day after the company began laying off workers to cut costs, and a growing number of companies are suspending advertising on Twitter as a wary corporate world waits to see how it will fare under a new owner.

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About half of the company’s 7,500 employees have been laid off, Yoel Roth, Twitter’s head of security and integrity, wrote on Twitter.

He said the campaign’s content moderation operatives were the group least affected by the job cuts, and that “election integrity efforts — including harmful disinformation that can suppress voting and countering information operations — supported by the state – remain the main priority”.

Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey on Saturday took the blame for the massive job losses. He ran twice for the position of CEO of Twitter, most recently from 2015 to 2021.

“I am responsible for why everyone is in this situation: I grew the size of the company too quickly,” he tweeted. – I apologize for that.

Musk tweeted late Friday that he had no choice but to cut jobs “when the company is losing over $4 million a day.” He did not provide details on the company’s daily losses and said that the employees who lost their jobs had been offered three months’ salary as severance pay.

Meanwhile, Twitter is already seeing a “big drop in revenue” due to pressure from activist groups on advertisers to leave the platform, Musk tweeted on Friday. This hits Twitter hard because of its heavy reliance on advertising to make money. In the first six months of this year, nearly $92 out of every $100 in revenue came from advertising.

United Airlines has become the latest major brand to suspend advertising on Twitter. Chicago-based United confirmed on Saturday that it had made the move, but declined to discuss the reasons for it or what it would need to see to resume advertising on the platform.

It joins a growing list of major companies suspending ads on Twitter, including General Motors, REI, General Mills and Audi.

Musk tried to reassure advertisers last week, saying Twitter would not become a “free-for-all hellscape” because of what he called its commitment to free speech.

But concerns remain about whether a lighter touch on Twitter’s content moderation will lead to users sending out more offensive tweets. This can damage companies’ brands if their ads appear next to them.

Copyright © 2022, The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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