Twitter’s verification Scandal has had more twists and turns than a Stephen King novel, which is fitting given that the author has been at the center of yet another controversy on the network. Because of his renown as a horror novelist, King was a “legacy” verified user who expected to lose his blue tick mark on April 20, the date Twitter’s owner, Elon Musk, indicated he wanted to remove the demarcation from all legacy users.
Lebron James and William Shatner got a free blue tick
However, while all around him lost their blue ticks, the King (Elon Musk) maintained his. Musk quickly revealed that he had chosen the writer and two others—NBA superstar Lebron James and Star Trek actor William Shatner—to receive the blue tick for free. The new blue checks are labeled, “This account is verified because they subscribed to Twitter Blue and verified their phone number.” King protested. “My Twitter account says I’ve subscribed to Twitter Blue,” he wrote on Twitter. “No, I haven’t. According to my Twitter account, I provided a phone number. “No, I haven’t.”
Twitter could be sued for misrepresentation
More uncertainty ensued when Twitter reversed Musk’s put-up-or-shut-up approach to verification. It now appears that any vintage Twitter user who had more than a million followers prior to April 20 had their tick mark reinstalled, along with a notice stating that they had paid for it. Many claim they haven’t, which, if true, may expose Twitter to a slew of legal issues.
“There are a number of potential legal claims we could see over Twitter assigning blue checks to accounts that did not sign up for them and do not want them,” says Alexandra Roberts, a Northeastern University professor of law and media. “Given that the blue checks are purported to be for users who have subscribed to Twitter Blue and verified their phone number.”
A law suit is very likely
According to Roberts, among the laws Twitter may be violating include federal statutes banning false advertising or endorsement and state laws against unfair competition allegations, as well as cases for defamation and theft of right of publicity. Any claims brought under these rules (“none are a slam dunk,” according to Roberts) would have to demonstrate that Twitter’s deceptive assertion that celebrities paid for Blue represents an endorsement of the service or commercial usage by the platform or that consumers viewing them would be misled.
Some academics believe the case can be made.
“What Musk is doing in paying for some celebrities to retain a blue tick can be considered an unfair or deceptive practice because it creates the impression to the public—including consumers—that these specific celebrities are endorsing Twitter’s business models,” says Catalina Goanta, an associate professor of law, economics, and governance at Utrecht University School of Law. “Only LeBron James and William Shatner are allowed to use their own public personas and images.”
Twitter blue failed miserably
Twitter Blue’s debut was not a rousing success. It is apparently producing less than 1% of its projected annual income. Twitter’s reaction to a request for comment on this issue was limited to an automatic faces emoji. Twitter may have exposed itself up to regulatory action by forcing blue ticks on hesitant users.
“The United States, the European Union, and the United Kingdom all have similar rules in this regard, prohibiting unfair and deceptive practices that may manipulate consumers and affect markets,” Goanta explains.
The Federal Trade Commission Act prohibits deceptive acts or practices affecting commerce, and saying that countless celebrities and well-known individuals have paid for a subscription to Twitter Blue when they haven’t appeared to be a prime example. “It’s also possible that we’ll see some agency action,” she adds. The FTC did not respond.
Don’t fall for the reinstation of the blue tick feasco
According to Andres Guadamuz, a law and technology academic specializing in intellectual property at the University of Sussex, the platform might face similar proceedings in the UK under “passing off” legislation. “It is a misrepresentation,” Guadamuz contends because the tick mark implies the holder has paid for the service.
Given the widespread contempt on Twitter for persons who pay for verification, celebrities may also claim that their reputations have been harmed.
“Any celebrities who want to troll Musk back should seriously consider hiring lawyers,” Guadamuz argues. “This could be a very strong case.”