By Low De Wei
Confusion surrounding Twitter Inc. deepened over the weekend after a number of high-profile accounts saw their prized blue check-marks reinstated — even though some of their owners have been dead for years.
Celebrities and public figures took to the platform to deny having paid the $8 a month that yields the colored tick, despite labels stating the “account is verified because they are subscribed to Twitter Blue and verified their phone number.” Unpaid, legacy blue ticks — which once conferred authenticity on accounts verified by the company — were removed last week as part of billionaire owner Elon Musk’s push to boost revenue.
“For the curious, I’m not subscribed to Twitter Blue. I haven’t given anyone my phone number,” fantasy author Neil Gaiman wrote. British actor Ian McKellen said he isn’t “paying for the ‘honor.’” Even the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, which also received the blue mark, sought to clarify that it has “never subscribed and paid” for the service.
Twitter has drawn fire for shifting policies as well as a series of outages since Musk took over the platform for $44 billion and fired many of its staff.
Users were quick to speculate on whether the label was automatically provided to accounts that cleared a million subscribers. But there appeared to be key exceptions, with the profiles of stars like actor Ryan Reynolds still missing a blue tick he once held, despite having more than 21 million followers.
More bewilderment was in store after people noticed that dead personalities’ accounts also sported the label, such as celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain and National Basketball Association player Kobe Bryant. Bourdain died in 2018 and Bryant in 2020.
Twitter’s Legacy Blue Checks Are Gone, Stirring Confusion
Others were angered by the addition of blue ticks for profiles of people such as prominent journalist and columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered in 2018. The account of former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, who was assassinated last year, also received the verified label. None of the profiles appeared to be active.
Other deceased celebrities’ accounts that sported the blue ticks included singer Michael Jackson, comic book artist Stan Lee and actor Chadwick Boseman, although those accounts have been actively managed by others on their behalf.
While no reason for the reinstatements was immediately provided, Musk has previously said he is “personally paying” for the Twitter Blue subscriptions of users including basketball player Lebron James, author Stephen King, and actor William Shatner, who have criticized the paid-subscription’s rollout.
Twitter Users Balk at Paying $8 a Month for Musk’s Blue Check
Some found humor in the situation. “I can only assume this is a gift for all the bath pics over the years,” wrote British comedian Ricky Gervais.
Another controversial change was the removal of labels describing news organizations as government-funded or state-affiliated, after weeks of sparring between Musk and organizations like the British Broadcasting Corp. and National Public Radio. The move has come under additional scrutiny after all labels got dropped for Chinese state media like the Xinhua News Agency, or Russian government-funded RT, which have been accused of peddling disinformation in the past. Both of their main accounts now have the Twitter Blue marks as well.
Twitter, which no longer has a communications team, did not specifically respond to a request for comment. The platform has also alienated advertisers now required to pay for verification or reach a minimum monthly spend on ads.
–With assistance from Shamim Adam.
More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com.