Twitter marks dead celebrities as ‘subscribed’ to Twitter Blue

Chadwick Boseman, Kobe Bryant and Anthony Bourdain are the latest celebrities to be verified under Twitter Blue, the social media platform’s paid-subscription service that allows anyone to get a blue check mark by their display name if they pay $8 a month and confirm their phone number.

Except the actor, athlete and celebrity chef died years ago, before Twitter Blue even existed.

Their accounts — and those of at least a dozen other dead celebrities — now feature a blue check, which, if hovered over, displays the message: “This account is verified because they are subscribed to Twitter Blue and verified their phone number.”

Twitter Blue first launched in 2021 as an opt-in service providing special perks for users, like the ability to “undo” tweets, for about $3 a month. It has evolved since Elon Musk bought the company in October and was recently relaunched at a higher price point with new features.

It wasn’t clear whether someone paid for Twitter Blue on the celebrities’ behalf and gave a phone number. Many of the profiles haven’t been active since these people died, and others are being actively managed. Twitter did not respond to a request for comment early Sunday.

Elon Musk’s Twitter strips blue checks from public figures

The platform began removing blue checks from “legacy” verified accounts on Thursday, in a bid to end what Musk has called the platform’s “lords & peasants system.” The check marks were previously given free to certain public figures and were meant to signal that Twitter had verified the authenticity of the account.

Now, the blue check marks are available to anyone for purchase. Twitter’s Help Center specifies that accounts that get the check mark as part of their Twitter Blue subscription “will not undergo review to confirm that they meet the active, notable and authentic criteria that was used in the previous process.” Experts have warned that this could increase the risk of impersonation and accelerate the spread of misinformation on Twitter.

The pivot to the new system has not been smooth. Some celebrities with large followings whose profiles still feature the check mark claimed they never paid for Twitter Blue. Musk said he personally paid for the subscriptions of at least three celebrities; one of them, the author Stephen King, later tweeted that Musk “should give my blue check to charity.”

Several high-profile people who said they had automatically gotten Twitter Blue complained that the check mark, previously a status symbol, now felt like a reprimand.

“wait I’m crying they’re giving them for punishment now !!?!!” tweeted model and television personality Chrissy Teigen. When Jon Favreau, co-host of the left-wing political podcast “Pod Save America,” bemoaned getting the emoji, Teigen advised him that changing his account handle would make the check mark disappear.

Twitter users #BlockTheBlue as ‘verified’ accounts take on new meaning

Among the deceased public figures listed Sunday as Twitter Blue subscribers were performers Michael Jackson, who died in 2009, and Malcolm James McCormick, known professionally as Mac Miller, who died in 2018, as well as John McCain, the Republican senator from Arizona who also died in 2018. Actress Kirstie Alley, TV news anchor Barbara Walters and Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington, all of whom have died, also had blue check marks.

Twitter users reacted with shock and anger, with some arguing that the platform bestowing the symbol on the accounts — if that is what happened — looked desperate and could be perceived as a tacit endorsement of the company from someone maintaining the account of a deceased celebrity. Some questioned whether the move could violate laws prohibiting the false insinuation that someone has endorsed a product or service.

Many pointed to the blue check mark on the account of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist who was assassinated in 2018, in what U.S. intelligence agencies say was a hit ordered by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

“This is obscene,” said Mohamad Bazzi, an associate professor of journalism at New York University.

“Jamal Khashoggi deserves better,” said Manisha Ganguly, an investigations correspondent for the Guardian.

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