The Complicated Legacy of Twitter’s Blue Checkmark
Twitter Blue, Elon Musk’s newly instated monthly “verification” subscription plan, quickly unraveled and caused a wave of verified accounts impersonating celebrities and companies. The chaos begs the question: where did the blue check come from, and why is it such a coveted status symbol?
Ever since Elon Musk acquired Twitter for an astonishing $44 billion, every single move of the Tesla and SpaceX founder has generated a flurry of headlines. In a few short weeks, the tech entrepreneur ordered immediate layoffs of half the company, fired executives by email, instituted overnight product deadlines, and instructed employees to be “more hardcore” in an all-hands. He also announced his new vision for Twitter Blue, a paid monthly subscription that allows any account to receive the coveted blue checkmark and offers early access to select new features he plans to roll out in the coming months.
Almost immediately, Twitter Blue triggered mass confusion and chaos. A deluge of accounts with blue checkmarks quickly began impersonating celebrities, corporations, and politicians on the platform with tweets posted under the guise of authenticity, some hilarious and others not so much. Twitter quickly halted the service while scrambling for a workaround, soon debuting a gray “official” badge meant to differentiate the authentic accounts of public figures from impersonators. Those, too, were paused while Musk worked out the kinks.
The authority a blue checkmark affords—and its complicated design legacy—may explain why the launch of Twitter Blue devolved into chaos. Twitter introduced the blue “verified” badge in 2009 after Kanye West and Shaquille O’Neal complained about impersonation on the platform. The design, which features a white checkmark on a light blue circle with a scalloped edge, was attached to accounts Twitter’s team verified as genuine, meaning it belonged to a company or public figure. Though verification weeds out fake accounts, critics argue it introduced a new social class of Twitter users, described by Musk as “lords and peasants.” The badge has become a virtual status symbol, though verified users are often disparagingly referred to as “blue checks.”
How did Twitter land on the blue checkmark as an icon of authenticity? Though its origin is difficult to trace, one theory suggests the mark represents the first letter of veritas, the Latin word for “truth.” Another holds that it’s simply an easier way of writing X—a universal symbol beloved by Musk—as it requires one pen stroke instead of two. The form has become particularly popular in branding—according to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, the checkmark’s use in logos has tripled since the 1970s, distinguishing graphics for the likes of Verizon and Norton. Nike’s iconic swoosh, meanwhile, is often mistaken for one.
The scalloped background also carries weight, perhaps evoking the emblem of a snow-covered peak adorning the tip of Montblanc pens or Salvador Dalí’s playful, undulating logo for Spanish confectioner Chupa Chups. It also nods to the seal, an outdated way of marking a document as official. Circular seals were once applied by impressing wax on paper, with excess material seeping out and creating a wavy edge. Though the shape was unintentional, it proved popular among universities that adopted their seals in the 20th century and maintain them to this day.
Design history aside, the mark is an effective visual cue. Similar checks have been picked up by Instagram, Facebook, and former president Trump’s Truth Social platform, albeit in red. Twitter users rely on the verification badge to gauge whether or not information is coming from a vetted news source or so-called authority figure. Until Musk incorporates more steps to prevent impersonations and parodies, the validation afforded by a blue checkmark has all but evaporated and the website is a much less reliable source of information. With spooked companies pulling advertising as parody accounts do them dirty, the Twitter Blue debacle spells trouble for a platform that has long thrived as a news dissemination service.