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Twitter Frees Its Hostages

Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Photo: David Odisho/Getty Images

It’s tempting to stay focused on how Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter has been humiliating for the man himself. The service has slid into technical and social disrepair. He incinerated more than half his company’s value in about six months. While money might not mean much to the richest man in the world, reputation plainly does, and his Twitter conquest has incinerated that, too. He wants people to see him as a visionary, and for years they did. Now he’s just another annoying guy with a failing app, less like a real-life Iron Man than an edgelord Mark Zuckerberg, a cringe-poster with admin access, his own worst reply guy. He even more desperately wants to be seen as funny, and now the whole world knows he’s not.

This is all true and actually funny, but it’s also a coping mechanism. When Musk bought Twitter, he bought a site used by lots of people who also care about their reputations, and who also want to be seen in particular ways. He bought a platform into which thousands of people and commercial entities across media, politics, sports, academia, and the broader economy and culture had invested a great deal of time, and on which they had cultivated what felt like meaningful and even valuable identities. Musk’s Twitter-addicted critics have documented his abject degradation in tweets, creating free content about the man who owns Twitter for the man who owns Twitter, noting the irony but never quite leaving. They knew they should. There would come a time, probably soon — maybe now! Maybe a long time ago! — when the vague value of staying exceeded the vague value that had accrued in their account, but for now, they were going to stick around to see what happened. There were plenty of signs that they should leave — the return of thousands of the worst accounts on the site, Musk’s reactionary dalliances, the TikTokification of the timeline — but never a deadline, or an order, or a hard stop. Until this:

In that glitchy, confusing, is-this-intentional way that everything happens on Twitter, now, the checks are actually going away. Again, it’s tempting to focus on the embarrassing particulars of the blue-check story: Verification was initially intended to prevent the impersonation of prominent accounts, and has been replicated across the industry; whatever value it amassed as a status symbol was wildly inflated by people like Musk, who found it extremely annoying that unworthy blue checks could say whatever they wanted about people like him, with an official imprimatur, and started casting it as a conspiracy; by turning Twitter’s ad hoc identity-verification system into a paid product, Musk is destroying its already vastly overestimated intangible value as a status marker. The new blue checks — the paid ones — have become inverse status markers of their own. It’s all incredibly stupid.

But, again, leaving it at this would be a mistake. Musk, who seems to believe he’ll be able to extort verified users to pay to keep their blue check, is actually, finally, giving them a precious gift: a simple offer, and a chance at a clean exit. Behind the first door: an $8-a-month blue checkmark that ensures they remain visible to other people who’ve paid for blue checkmarks, giving them some chance at relevance in Elon’s new Twitter, which was created in part to spite them (also: complicity). Behind the second door: freedom, and a good excuse to leave, better late than never (also: a chance to save face).

To the many lingering former blue checks out there who have been unsure about how to handle this decreasingly tolerable situation — I see you posting through this, too, out of reflex — a word of advice: Step through door No. 2. The New York Times rejected Musk’s shakedown attempt, and so should you. Let your posts languish in obscurity; better yet, if you’re stronger than I, release your need to post at all. It’s a genuine shame to lose a piece of internet infrastructure like this — as ridiculous and corrosive as Twitter could be, it was valuable to many of its users, and many of its users provided value — but sticking around won’t fix things. Take seriously the resentment that drove Musk’s purchase in the first place. Your old neighborhoods are marked for demolition, and your property there, while still standing, has been deeded to someone else, anyway.

Doubling down on Twitter won’t pay off, because Twitter as you knew it is going away, and the value of your account will be zeroed out eventually. The longer you stay, the worse it will get, and the worse you’ll feel. Don’t believe me? Just look at what happened to Elon.

Twitter Frees Its Hostages