My 72 Hours As Elon Musk
What I Think About Verification Badges Now
I’d like to preface this article with a few notes. I began my Twitter experience as a parody account before changing it into a real account. My first tweets were as @TedHaikuCruz, a poetic parody of the Texas senator. It didn’t last long because tweeting and commenting entirely in haiku format was limiting. However, it was successful enough to get my account recognized by some heavy-hitting political-commentary accounts. I decided I wanted to do more with Twitter than be a parody and created @TheLiberalPoet. Seemingly overnight, my account grew, and 60k users have found their way to following me on Twitter. I don’t always get it right, and I’m increasingly separating myself from the #resister (#Resistor) monolith for a number of reasons that I won’t get into here. That said, I like Twitter, I appreciate my followers, and I’m committed to speaking up for liberal causes through my Twitter account.
Before talks began circling that Elon would purchase Twitter, I never really paid much attention to the Tesla, SpaceX CEO. I knew nothing about his political leanings, his business practices, or his thoughts on how social media should look. I’ll also admit that I’m still researching Musk, waiting to see how changes to Twitter affect the user experience, and what other viable alternatives to Twitter are out there if Twitter becomes the new MySpace.
Recently, the most talked about change to Twitter has been Elon’s proposal to give verification badges to users who pay for Twitter Blue. I don’t recall when I started paying for Twitter Blue, but I did so because I liked Twitter and wanted to be involved in improving the overall experience. I also appreciated features like decreased ads, tweet editing, display options, and the underrated thread reader. That said, with the recent talk of verification badges, I decided to share my experience as Elon Musk. I began posting as @TheRealElon on an alternate account three days ago. I was not ready for the reactions or for the lessons I have since learned.
Imitating Twitter’s new “Chief Twit” was surprisingly easy. Much like Elon, I’m kind of an asshole with a proclivity for sarcasm. The ability to tweet like Elon would played heavily in the believability of the account. I had no verification badge, my bio did not match that of @ElonMusk, and I placed my location as “Parody”. The fact that I only had about 3,000 followers, had no previous tweets, and took my parody to ridiculous levels at times should have been enough that no one would have fallen for the trick. Yet, they did. Surprisingly often considering my tweets didn’t have much exposure. I thought about posting some of the better replies and quote tweets here, but have decided against it. Still, I was tagged in replies to the actual Elon (@ElonMusk) and picked a fight with another parody account only to find its loyal followers un-ironically mocking me (Elon Musk) for not recognizing a parody account. Even more concerning, people believed some of the wild things I said as Elon. This lead me to a few conclusions.
1.) We’re Doomed
Jokes aside, it is quite concerning that I was able to fool even one person, much less verified accounts and accounts with followers ranging from a handful to thousands. My original goal was not to be a source of chaos. I had no way of knowing that my fake Elon would fool anyone. Quite the contrary, I thought everyone would have seen it as the joke it was.
Twitter is a fast-paced media platform, and this leads to reactionary tweeting more often than not. Speaking from personal experience, if you don’t jump on a piece of information fast enough, you risk being drowned out by those that acknowledged it first. Once the Blue-Check accounts start weighing, good luck. If you can’t find something unique to add to the conversation (or if you don’t have thousands of followers that will retweet you just because it’s you), you probably aren't going to be able gain much traction. Therefore, your account won’t grow as much as you would like. Next thing you know, you’re either stuck on the app 24/7 waiting to pounce on the next big thing or you are tweeting things like “I think Twitter has shadow banned me. Can ANYONE see this tweet?”
This causes concern. I’m not the first to acknowledge Twitter user’s susceptibility to false information because of the pace of the platform. Journalists have to create a product (even if it means not having all the facts). That leads to articles and tweets being written in haste and tweeted and retweeted uncontrollably well before all the facts are available. If journalists paid to be on top of the news fall victim to Twitter’s speed, the average tweeter doesn’t fair any better chance of always getting it right.
All too often, a news story breaks and Twitter becomes a panel of experts. If it’s inflation, everyone becomes economy experts. If it’s a trial, everyone becomes judicial experts. If it’s Elon Musk, everyone becomes social media, business experts. And on and on and on. It’s no wonder that the biggest criticism of Twitter is the mob-mentality of its users. Whether this criticism is warranted or not, it exists.
With the pace of Twitter, the conditioning reward of a like or retweet, and the satisfaction of being seen it’s all too easy to become reactionary. Honestly, the platform feeds on and creates this type of user, and I’m as guilty as the next person. Due to our reactionary tweeting habits, we get things wrong—a lot more than we like to admit.
If Twitter users can’t click on my fake Elon’s profile and take two seconds to question its validity, there’s no way in HELL that users are viewing videos in their entirety or reading articles. They aren’t verifying said information by researching various opinions, facts, and statistics. It’s an almost certainty that a significant number of the people that like this very article when it’s dropped to Twitter will have done so without reading it. Researchers know this to be true. So much so, news organizations have guidelines on how to effectively outline information in articles to capitalize on the various eye scan patterns that readers use to skim information. Since this is true, since this is how we process information and speak to important issues, changes need to be made on how social media moderates that information. If Twitter, or any other social media, wants to decrease the negative effects of their platform, they would be wise to consider changes that acknowledge our user habits. There’s no one fix, and many small changes will need to occur to “fix” social media. That brings us to verification badges.
I’ve long thought that verification badges on Twitter should be made available to anyone that can prove their identity and agree not to hide behind fake avatars and Twitter handles. This might mean that avatars and usernames shouldn’t be changed without applying to have the information verified again, but that’s the price to pay for true verification. Of course, there would need to be a verification model for businesses that use logos instead of face images. All of that said, the number of Blue Check users this week that have changed their name to Elon Musk to prove a point have only proven that verification badges have nothing to do with true verification despite this being their loudest grievance with the proposed system.
Sure, it is more likely that those who would normally have an unverified account are the ones likely to imitate a verified user. In other words, it’s not as likely a verified account would try to pass themselves off as another verified user, but my own experience as @The Real Elon proves that this doesn’t mean much in the end.
I was pretending to be and tweeting as the most important, most visible account on Twitter right now and was able to pull it off despite so many obvious setbacks. Couple this with the fact that most of the users replied or retweeted and never look back at the thread to see that I was a parody, it plain to see how important user identity is. Had I imitated a lesser known account, I might have been able to do so to greater effect. I could have created accounts to beg for money using their identity or tweet things that would damage reputations. Even so, the idea that those concerned with verification badges for verification’s sake seems laughable.
Blue Checks have become a symbol of status and clout. A user’s tweets receive more recognition simply because of the circle next to their name. We can all think of at least one verified user (Nick Adams, for example) that receive way more interaction than they deserve simply because they have the Blue Check. This doesn’t “verify” their opinions, but it does give them more weight in a social media platform designed to speed users along to the next bit of information, the next big hashtag or news story. While there are legitimate concerns with how Twitter handles the verification badge from here on out, it’s a bit disingenuous to act as if most of that concern isn’t a selfish desire to be special. I do not think Twitter should hand out verification badges to anyone that doesn’t go through the verification process, but even accounts that were verified pre-Elon are proving that where there is a desire for dishonesty and ill-intent there is a way under the current system of verification.
Instead of ranting against Twitter verification being available to all, we should be demanding that this idea be better implemented. I won’t pretend to have all the answers on how to do this. It’s not within my wheelhouse of knowledge, and it’s not my job to do Elon’s. What is vital is that we focus on the real issues of Twitter’s verification policies, recognize that the existing system was bullshit, and demand that better practices be put in motion (paid subscriptions or not). Anything less than that is flat out refusal to admit we like our verification privilege and don’t want others to have access to it even when security concerns are addressed adequately.
My time as Elon was fun. I laughed quite a bit, and I’m sure others did too. I spent so much time rolling my eyes at responses that I was afraid they would get stuck that way. Still, it was a fun experience overall. It also taught me a lot about Twitter’s users and the way in which social media affects information accuracy. We have a long way to go in fighting disinformation. Elon may not be the one to help that cause at all. He may even make it worse. That said, we have to be honest about our resistance to change. There may be valid reasons for opposing Twitter’s new proposal for verification. However, the old system was full of flaws, and maybe it took pissed off blue checks trying to prove a point to Elon for those glaring flaws to be seen.
Written by @TheLiberalPoet (Twitter/Instagram/Tik-Tok)
Thanks for reading!
The eye-rolling part is spontaneous when I'm on Twitter. I saw your fake account and all the others and first wondered why Elon got past my blocking him. You writers are an amazingly interesting bunch. I want no verification, I use my real name and image, I don't care about follower numbers, I'm not a writer, just a reader that enjoys a good story and good information. 😉