Elon Musk’s long-promised purge of legacy blue check marks arrived Thursday. The iconic Twitter badge was stripped from the accounts of thousands of celebrities and public figures, some of whom were happy to be rid of it after Musk bought Twitter and transformed the check mark from an anti-impersonation tool into a clout symbol that anyone with $8 and a working phone number could acquire.
Of the few celebrities who retained a blue check after the eradication, at least one insisted he never wanted it.
“My Twitter account says I’ve subscribed to Twitter Blue. I haven’t,” horror author Stephen King tweeted. “My Twitter account says I’ve given a phone number. I haven’t.”
“You’re welcome namaste,” Musk replied. The social-media-addicted billionaire explained in another tweet that he had gifted Twitter Blue subscriptions — the premium Twitter package that is now the only way to get a blue check mark — to King, William Shatner and LeBron James. (The Verge first reported that Musk was giving blue check marks to celebrities.)
Musk had previously made it clear how much he adores King, who has more than 7 million followers and is one of Twitter’s most prolific users, but the author hasn’t exactly returned the love. King’s publicist did not immediately respond to an email asking if he plans to keep the gift subscription.
James, the basketball legend with more than 52 million Twitter followers, so far hasn’t shown any gratitude either. He has yet to comment publicly about Musk’s gift, but he already made peace with losing his check mark. “If you know me I ain’t paying the 5,” James posted last month, referencing a line from the “Martin” episode “Ain’t Nuttin’ Goin’ on But the Rent.”
It’s a bit unclear what Shatner thinks of his check mark. The actor previously complained about Twitter’s decision to make users pay for them, but cryptically tweeted “Thank you, I accept,” to Musk a day before the purge. (Shatner and King could not immediately be reached for comment.)
The blue check mark has long been a cultural inkblot of sorts. Twitter introduced it in the late 2010s as a way to fight celebrity impersonation, and eventually conferred the badge upon hundreds of thousands of public figures, artists, athletes and journalists. It finally turned into an unofficial status symbol that was loathed by self-professed anti-elitists such as Musk, who once called it a “lords & peasants system.”
After buying Twitter for $44 billion last year, Musk promised to democratize the blue check system by giving one to any user who paid for Twitter Blue. But relatively few have been willing to do so, according to Bloomberg News. Of those who have paid up, the most enthusiastic seem to be Musk fans, right-wing politicos and trolls with usernames like Catturd — a group many celebrities don’t want to be associated with.
So Thursday’s purge — which Musk timed to the unofficial marijuana holiday 4/20 — was something of a seismic event in internet culture. A-list celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, Beyoncé and Kim Kardashian suddenly had a glaring blank space beside their usernames, which looked virtually indistinguishable from their impersonators. Those who kept their badges — the megastar Taylor Swift, among others — were called out by TMZ as “STILL PAYIN’ FOR THE CHECKMARKS.”
Others expressly disavowed the new blue badge, which seemed to them anything but cool.
“NOT PAYING FOR A BLUE CHECK MARK!” actress Alyssa Milano added to her Twitter bio.
“Elon took my check away. So if you’re looking for me & wondering if this is me — it’s me,” tweeted TV personality Kamie Crawford.
Even “Sesame Street” stars had something to say: “Elmo will miss you, little blue check mark. But don’t worry everybody, Elmo is still Elmo!”
Yet another class of Twitter users seemed caught between cultural crosscurrents on Thursday. A few journalists who found Twitter Blue’s other perks useful enough to pay for took pains to distance themselves from whatever their blue badge now said about them.
“Please don’t @ me,” blue-checked Wall Street Journal columnist Joanna Stern tweeted Thursday afternoon. “I like editing tweets. I like having the ability to write longer tweets. I like the ability to bold tweets even though I don’t even know if it works.”
And Bobby Blanchard, a journalist with Morning Consult, begged for a way to remove his check mark.
Twitter being the battleground it is, there were naturally plenty of people defending the new blue check regime under the trending topic “Pay the 8.” But it’s unclear how Musk will rebuild the check mark’s once-vaunted reputation, or if he even wants to.
When emailed for comment, Twitter auto-replied to The Washington Post with another symbol that’s become emblematic of Musk’s reign: a poop emoji.