Elon Musk’s haphazard reforms of Twitter’s verification policy took a new twist as public figures stripped of their blue badges had them returned on Saturday night – including several users who are dead.
Musk has made a series of changes to how users are authenticated since taking charge of the platform last October.
On Thursday, blue check marks were removed from “legacy” users – who were verified prior to the takeover – leaving only subscribers to the $8-a-month Twitter Blue service with the marks, which offer features such as priority positioning in replies.
However, this weekend, some prominent users of the platform reported that their badges had returned for free, with a label falsely indicating that they were paid subscribers to the Twitter Blue service.
“Check mate,” tweeted Musk as the changes went into effect – after three days in which Musk superfans who had subscribed to Twitter Blue were roundly mocked and even blocked on sight by other users. Few famous recipients of the marks appeared grateful for them.
British actor Sir Ian McKellen wrote: “Despite the implication when you click the blue badge that has mysteriously reappeared beside my name, I am not paying for the ‘honour’.”
American author Stephen King tweeted: “I think Mr Musk should give my blue check to charity. I recommend the Prytula Foundation, which provides lifesaving services in Ukraine. It’s only $8, so perhaps Mr Musk could add a bit more.”
The South African-born billionaire had earlier revealed that he personally paid for the verification of a handful of celebrities including Mr King and LeBron James.
That ad hoc approach appears to have been replaced by a more systematic policy to verify users with at least one million followers.
But in the process, several deceased celebrities were also verified including actor Chadwick Boseman, Senator John McCain, TV presenter Anthony Bourdain, and basketball player Kobe Bryant, which drew widespread criticism.
“Forcing people who have died to falsely endorse your product is an ethical bridge that most companies don’t cross,” wrote one user. “Elon seems to have no problem with it though.”
The latest changes followed a popular #BlockTheBlue campaign to block subscribers to the Twitter Blue service.
One of the leading accounts promoting the campaign, comedian @Dril, appeared to have a verification badge imposed on his account by Musk. A @Blocktheblue account promoting the campaign was deleted.
The episode comes at the end of a difficult week for Musk, as his largest-ever SpaceX rocket launch ended in failure, and his net worth plummeted by $13bn (£10.5bn).