Just weeks ago, Elon Musk introduced then withdrew Twitter Blue, the program that allows any user to buy a blue checkmark for their account. Local government agencies across the country are concerned. Mainly about the changes affecting their ability to effectively communicate with the public using Twitter.
“There is a reality now that someone could buy a blue checkmark and then they could suddenly say they are a government agency telling you evacuate, for instance. So, even a blue checkmark might not mean what it used to mean,” tweeted the Washington Emergency Management Division.
“It’s easy to use, it’s free. It’s kind of simplistic in a sense, you know, it’s just short messaging. It provides something that allows municipalities to reach their citizens and other community stakeholders, as they say where they’re at,” Dr. Jeffrey Stone, a professor at Penn State University, said. Stone, a researcher, has investigated municipalities’ use of social media, specifically Twitter.
“There’s always the risk involved with things like misinformation and fake accounts and bots, causing ripples in discussions and things like that. And that’s an ongoing problem. Not just for governments, but corporations and individuals. It will continue to be an ongoing issue. But what I’ve gathered from the interviews I’ve done, and from the surveys I’ve conducted is that municipalities feel it’s worth the risk,” Stone said.
At least, it’s been worth the risk so far. And some government agencies maintain that it continues to be. They are educating users on how to spot a real account. They are doing so by providing tips like: Look for the link to a government website in the bio, check how old the account is and see if there’s an “official” tag under the handle. That tag will hang around with Twitter Blue, according to Twitter.
“Yeah, I mean, there’s no perfect platform. Certainly I know there are municipalities out there, using text messaging. Especially for emergency alerts and things like that and making that available to citizens. But every platform has its advantages and disadvantages. Every technology has its pros and cons. And every technology, while it may have great things that can be accomplished with it. There are also very negative things that can be accomplished with it. And finding that balance and kind of figuring out how to use them in the most effective manner. That’s going to take some time,” said Stone.
The San Diego City Attorney’s Office is one agency that’s decided to leave the platform. It tweeted that “Twitter is moving in a troubling direction.”
Elon Musk says Twitter Blue will tentatively relaunch on Dec. 2, with the following adjustments: Checkmarks for government accounts will be colored gray, checkmarks for individuals will be blue, and checkmarks for companies will be gold.