‘Dangerous times ahead’: Filipino journalists worry over paid Twitter verified badge

November 3, 2022 - 12:47 PM
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Photo shows Elon Musk (REUTERS/Mike Blake; Artwork by Interaksyon/James Patrick Cruz)

Filipino journalists expressed alarm over the possibility of further spread of disinformation on Twitter following the proposal to charge an amount for a verified badge.

Elon Musk proposed that Twitter will charge $8 (P466.82) a month or $96 (P5,601.84) yearly for a blue check mark.

($1= P58.35; Figures from Google exchange rate)

The plan came a few days after Musk took sole control of Twitter in a contentious $44 billion deal. 

RELATED: Elon Musk’s Twitter ownership begins with firings, uncertainty | Elon Musk says Twitter will revise how it verifies users

“Twitter’s current lords & peasants system for who has or doesn’t have a blue checkmark is bullshit. Power to the people! Blue for $8/month,” Musk said in a tweet

He said the price will be adjusted by “country proportionate to purchasing power parity.”

According to Musk, among the perks of those with a verified account is getting priority in replies, mentions, and searches. They will also be able to post longer videos and audio and see half as many ads. 

He also offered subscribers a paywall bypass from “publishers willing to work with us.”

“This will also give Twitter a revenue stream to reward content creators,” Musk said. 

“There will be a secondary tag below the name for someone who is a public figure, which is already the case for politicians,” he added. This feature is currently not available in the country. 

RELATED: Musk says Twitter will charge $8/month for blue check mark

Prior to this, in June last year, Twitter offered a subscription service called Twitter Blue in the United States. Subscription to this allows users to access unique features such as an option to edit tweets.

Credibility for sale?

Many Filipino journalists said this move by Twitter could embolden the networked and funded disinformation campaign in the country as anyone can claim to be credible just by shelling out money from their pocket. 

“Dangerous times ahead, since this will just empower fake news peddlers on Twitter. We know disinformation networks have the money and can easily pay $8/month to get that blue checkmark, claim credibility, and continue spewing lies laced with hate. Tsk tsk,” The Straits Times news correspondent Mara Cepeda said in a tweet

“If implemented, this would disrupt efforts to combat disinformation. Troll farms loaded with cash could benefit,” freelance journalist Melissa Luz Lopez said

“Congratulations for legitimizing the disinformation network for the small price of $8 a month,” Rappler reporter Lian Buan said

“So now anyone who can afford to pay $8 a month can be a verified user on this app. The disinformation gods are celebrating,” Al Jazeera news correspondent Barnaby Lo said

A group of Filipino information and communications technology professionals also express worries over this move by Twitter.

“The blue checkmark serves as verification that the account holder is who they actually say they are. It is a means to combat disinformation,” Computer Professionals’ Union said in a tweet.

“In this time when people in power are shelling out money for their disinformation machinery, this paid scheme only benefits those in power,” it added.

Foreign journalist share similar concerns that paid subscription for a verified badge will open the floodgates of disinformation.

“How will Twitter verification ensure that people aren’t just impersonators or parody accounts? Let’s say a bunch of creators lose their checks because they don’t want to pay. What’s stopping people from impersonating them, paying for verification, and tweeting fake info?” Tech and culture reporter Kat Tenbarge of NBC News said.

“Fake news and hoax news from parody news accounts already spread like wildfire. Imagine someone impersonates a creator and tweets a link to a new “product” they’re endorsing but it’s actually a scam?” she added.

“Elon Musk’s Twitter sounds like Weibo, where you can buy a verified account to spread fake news and propaganda. It was indeed a good business,” Bang Xiao of ABC’s Asia Pacific Newsroom said.

Disinformation network

A study titled “Architects of Networked Disinformation” by researchers Jonathan Ong and Jason Vincent Cabañes revealed that the spread of disinformation in the country is organized and funded by politicians regardless of party and ideology.

“The people we interviewed [disinformation workers] are primarily driven by financial motivations, but most of them are actually politically aligned with their client,” Ong and Cababañes said in their study.

They said politicians hire public relations and advertising agencies as chief architects of networked disinformation.

Their study revealed that these strategists then hire digital influencers to translate campaign messages into viral posts, while community-level fake account operators amplify the reach of these posts and create an “illusion of engagement.”

RELATED: Ad, PR strategists tagged among ‘architects of networked disinformation’ in resurfaced infographic

Before Twitter starts removing the verified badge of users who are not willing to pay, social media consultant Matt Navarra shared an online tool that allows users to confirm if an account was previously verified.