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Twitter Troubles: Faculty Insight

Abigail Flynn
November 20, 2022

Fake, verified Twitter accounts caused chaos after Elon Musk, who purchased the platform in October for $44 billion, allowed users to purchase verification marks without confirming their identities. Rasha Abdulla, professor in the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, examines the impact of this decision on freedom of speech, misinformation and the future of one of the world’s biggest social media platforms.Rasha Abdulla

What has happened since Musk bought Twitter?

The first couple of weeks since Elon Musk took over Twitter have certainly witnessed quite a few alarming decisions. The firing of so many Twitter staff, particularly those concerned with human rights and the ethical use of AI, is quite the red flag and has gotten digital rights advocates very concerned about the future of Twitter.

What is the future of free speech on Twitter?

While I'm personally for pushing the limits of freedom of expression, having no regulations whatsoever on a platform of Twitter's scope and magnitude makes it prone to misuse and privy to hate speech and misinformation. Musk has announced that he is forming some kind of a council to come up with proper regulations, and we are yet to see how this council comes along and what they come up with. 

What could happen if this problem goes unchecked?

We have seen from the misuse of Facebook in Myanmar, for example, that major social media platforms can be severely misused and such misuse can lead to loss of life. Platforms have a responsibility to not let that happen and we, the civic society, should also stay vigilant in this regard.

How does Musk’s decision to charge for verification impact this situation?

I think Musk's decision to monetize the blue mark on Twitter is a huge mistake. Originally, having a blue mark basically meant that Twitter has confirmed the owner of the account is who they claim they are. It was reserved for celebrities and/or people of a certain academic, social or scientific status. Unfortunately, now anyone who pays $8 a month will be able to get a blue mark under any name, which defies the whole point of verification. 

What are some potential problems with the new verification system?

This will inevitably lead to a plethora of fake "verified" accounts. This is a huge disaster and could lead to much misinformation that could be life-threatening. Think of a World Health Organization fake verified account telling people vaccinations are dangerous during a pandemic! Think of a fake verified United Nations agency account tweeting about the Russian invasion of Ukraine! Such examples could lead to actual disasters long before Twitter gets a chance to deal with the fake accounts. 

Should Musk rescind the new system? 

We've already seen several problems in the few days that this "service" has been available, most notably a fake Eli Lilly account promising free insulin. I think Twitter really needs to take this back.It defies the whole point of verification and can cause much potential harm of the worst kind. It also takes away from the credibility of the whole platform.

It appears that Musk has temporarily halted the system. Is this a good thing?

I think it's coming back in a couple of weeks. So my comments stand unless any major developments take place.

What is the future of Twitter?

As a result of all these actions, I see scores of Twitter users, including myself, already migrating to other platforms such as Mastodon, which is a decentralized version of Twitter. We'll see how things play out in the days to come.