Twitter users whose accounts bore unpaid Twitter Blue checkmarks lost them in Elon Musk’s great verification purge only to see them restored days later—still sans payment.
The ongoing Twitter revamp that CEO Elon Musk promised would “democratize journalism” and “empower the voice of the people” has been plagued by false starts, glitchy feature launches, and widespread refusal to dole out cash for “verified” check marks. The symbol that once held status has since become a sort of scarlet letter or a pocket full of emeralds in Cape Town — people know what it takes to get it, and it’s bad. After celebrities such as Stephen King and LeBron James publicly refused to pay up and had their checks removed, Musk announced he had created a save-a-celebrity fund and stuck them with the mark of the bird without their consent in an apparent act of trolling.
But major celebrities aren’t the only freeloaders who have had their checks removed and then forced back onto their profiles. Two users who lost and then mysteriously regained their Blue checkmarks told Gizmodo that they have not paid for Twitter Blue for months. Both users provided evidence that they are not actively subscribed to the service, and Gizmodo was able to confirm the removal of their checks via Web archive records. Twitter API data analyzed by researcher Travis Brown indicates the users first subscribed to Twitter Blue in late 2022 and are currently marked as verified.
In February, I reported for Gizmodo on an apparent bug that let some Twitter Blue users keep their checks despite not having paid for the service in months. One of those users and a hacker affiliated with the hacktivist group Anonymous, Aubrey “Kirtaner” Cottle, says he canceled his subscription back in January after subscribing in December. Just days after that reporting was published, Cottle briefly lost the check mark, which he considered a cause for joy. But his happiness didn’t last.
“It disappeared for a few days and then came back,” Cottle told Gizmodo. A review of Cottle’s Twitter profile on Web Archive shows he did not have a blue check on February 15, six days after he was quoted in my previous story. The space where the blue check previously sat was empty for several days, but Web Archive records show that the check was back on his profile by February 25.
“At some point this has to be intentional and that is mortifying somehow,” Cottle Tweeted on April 20, the day that the majority of legacy check marks were removed.
Gizmodo reviewed a video shared by Cottle that demonstrated he does not currently have an active Twitter Blue subscription. He does not have access to any of the Twitter Blue features. But he is marked nonetheless.
Cottle’s role as a vocal Musk critic is a possible reason for his fate. Musk has publicly admitted to “trolling” various accounts who had been vocally opposed to the idea of paying for a blue check. Twitter even went so far as to ban an account called BlockTheBlue, which encouraged users to automatically block anyone subscribed to Twitter Blue. But the reappearance of the blue check on non-paying users’ profiles could also simply be a sign that Twitter’s skeleton crew can’t plug all the holes in an increasingly leaky ship.
Consider that another account, OfficialNized, also lost and then regained their blue check despite canceling their Twitter Blue subscription three months ago. OfficialNized shared screenshots with Gizmodo confirming that he does not have an active Twitter Blue subscription. OfficialNized is not a celebrity and did not make a habit of dunking on Twitter Blue users or Musk.
“After Blue expired, the checkmark stayed, but at a random time the mark went away for about two days,” OfficialNized told Gizmodo. “Then it came back.”
A review of Web Archive shows that on April 7, OfficialNized was not verified. But come April 10, OfficialNized was once again marked as “verified.”
“I hope this gets fixed soon,” Nized said. “Or else, people with checkmarks like me will still get made fun of.”
Other users have also been haunted by blue checks that disappear and reappear like ghosts. MSNBC commentator Mehdi Hasan lost his check mark in the April 20 purge, only to get it back again as a “gift” from Musk the next day. Web Archive records show that by April 24, the check was gone again after Hasan posted about it, only to be added back a second time in April 30, much to his chagrin.
“Erm, why do I have a blue check again @Twitter @TwitterSupport?” Hasan Tweeted on April 30. “I. Did. Not. Pay. For Twitter. Blue.”
The curse of the unpaid Blue check may have been intentionally cast to troll critics or simply been caused by a strange bug on a short-staffed platform—the chances seem equally likely. As per recent tradition, Twitter’s press email address responded with poop emoji when asked for comment. Meanwhile, a number of previously verified users who had their legacy check marks removed shared screenshots of their profiles boasting blue check marks after simply adding “former blue check” to their profile description. Musk also doled out blue checks to several dead celebrities’ accounts, including Chadwick Boseman and Anthony Bourdain.
“This is the dumbest website that’s ever existed lmao,” Luis Paez-Pumar Tweeted.