Nov 9, 2022 - Economy

Elon Musk tells advertisers they have to pay for blue badges

Illustration of a hand giving money to the Twitter bird logo.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Elon Musk on Wednesday said brands and advertisers that want to remain verified on Twitter will need to pay $8 monthly to keep their blue badges, just like everyone else.

Why it matters: Musk believes making verification badges accessible to anyone willing to pay will "level the playing field," but knowing how important advertisers are for Twitter's business, he still offered to personally pay for brands if they're "hellbent on not paying."

Driving the news: During the hour-long public Twitter Spaces event Wednesday, Musk laid out his product vision for Twitter.

  • He said in the future, tweets from verified accounts will appear higher in users' main feed and tweets from non-verified accounts will be separated, similar to how Gmail's spam folder separates junk email from priority email.
  • "Then you can still look at all the others, but it will default to the highly relevant category which will be verified," Musk said to a group of more than 110,000 listeners, which included marketers from notable companies.

Between the lines: Musk tried to reassure advertisers that he is committed to brand safety and content moderation, but most of the solutions he offered were focused on products, over policy solutions.

  • Verification: Musk said paying for blue badges would reduce spam because "creating a fake account is just extremely cheap. Bad actors, "don't have a million credit cards and phones," to make many fake verified accounts, he said. He also argued payment would incentivize users to post less hate speech.
  • Ad tech: Musk also said he will focus more on ad innovation so that advertising can be more "relevant" and "timely" Twitter has for a long time failed to build ad solutions for performance advertisers, or advertisers looking to efficiently sell goods, instead of just spreading awareness of their brand.
  • Creator tools: Musk said he wants to do more to enable monetization for content creators "at a rate at least competitive with alternative" platforms, then creators will post more natively on Twitter, bringing more ad inventory for advertisers.
  • Commerce: Musk said he wants to do more to make Twitter's ads relevant "to drive sales in the short term but we're also not doing anything that damages reputation in the long term."
  • Video: Once people become verified, Musk said they'll be able to eventually download much longer videos.

Yes, but: Advertisers are still skeptical.

  • Musk has reached out to the advertising community several times in the past two weeks to try to salvage those relationships. But a common response from marketers Axios spoke with after Wednesday's event is that they remain frustrated with Musk's lack of commitment to content moderation.
  • When asked about brand safety by Robin Wheeler — Twitter's VP of US client solutions who appears poised to become Twitter's next sales leader — Musk hardly addressed content moderation policies.
  • Twitter's content moderation council will take "a few months" to put together, Musk said. He then pivoted, noting, the company needs to "take moment to completely rewrite the software stack" so that Twitter can innovate faster.

The big picture: Musk's Spaces event showed how wide the gulf is between his views on free speech with advertisers' expectations of brand safety.

  • Advertisers Axios has spoken to are looking for concrete policy ideas and plans to enforce those rules, while Musk remains focused on making Twitter more free-speech friendly.
  • "There's a giant difference between freedom of speech and freedom of reach," Musk argued while emphasizing that "we need to be tolerant of speech we don't agree with."
  • His new verification system, he believes, will help solve the reach problem.

Yes, but: Musk's new verification system is already starting to be gamed, with spoof accounts buying verified badges to mislead users.

  • One spoof account of Lebron James requesting to be traded had over 1,500 retweets and quote tweets before it was suspended.

What to watch: When asked if the same rules on the platform apply to Elon Musk as everyone else, Musk said, "Yeah, absolutely."

Go deeper: A timeline of the Musk-Twitter deal so far

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