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Dubai’s influencers will weather the blue tick Twitter storm

Elon Musk's plans for Twitter include overhauling the blue verification system, leaving Dubai influencers planning their response Reuters/Dado Ruvic
The billionaire' s first two weeks as Twitter's owner has been marked by rapid change and chaos
  • Elon Musk will offer any user a blue tick of verification for $8 a month 
  • Dubai-based PR argues mass verification means nobody is verified
  • Influencers ‘should build stronger relationships with followers’

Twitter is going through an historic overhaul: thousands of staff members fired, a new senior leadership team in place, and a new CEO at the helm – Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk.

Among Musk’s flagship plans for the platform, perhaps the most eye-catching is an overhaul of the verification system — Twitter’s blue ticks.

Musk, citing his vision to democratise the platform, plans to offer any user a blue tick of verification for $8 a month.

He tweeted: “Twitter’s current lords and peasants system for who has or doesn’t have a blue checkmark is bullsh*t. Power to the people! Blue for $8/month.”

But the response in the Gulf to his apparently ideology-fuelled plans to open access to the coveted blue ticks has been less than stellar. 

For Natasha Hatherall-Shaw, founder and CEO of Dubai-based PR and marketing agency TishTash, there is a danger that mass verification means nobody is really verified at all.

“Buying a blue tick for $8 a month opens the floor to anyone willing to pay and almost feels like an equivalent of ‘buying followers’,” she said.

“It renders the tick meaningless here if there is no verification. 

“Journalists and public figures have played a large part in building up Twitter over the past 12 years and a dilution of the ‘authenticity’ will definitely lead to a lack of trust, more fake profiles and sadly ‘fake news’.”

For influencers in the Emirates the impact to their careers will be limited: “I do not think it is too much of a concern in the UAE market exclusively, beyond those that work and connect internationally, audience-wise,” she said.

“Twitter was hugely popular in the UAE cyberspace when it preceded Instagram, and as an antidote to Facebook — brands and businesses were quickly onboard and Twitter ‘influencers’ were certainly a thing for Dubai.

“But its local influence in that sphere waned with the popularity of Instagram.”

Whether charging users an $8 monthly subscription can turn around Twitter’s financial performance is not entirely clear, but the potential impact on the company’s remaining influencer and brand marketing ecosystem is easier to predict, Hatherall-Shaw warns.

“Influencer public figures and brands will absolutely abandon Twitter if they feel at risk of copycat accounts, fake news or other such threats to their reputation,” she said.

Dubai-based Maha Mahdy, business head for the Middle East and North Africa at marketing platform AnyTag, part of Singapore’s AnyMind Group, believes an influencer’s following and previous activity can serve as its own form of verification — and this is what will ensure they stand out from the crowd if verification is not reliable.

“It is still important to keep in mind that as the industry grew, even someone with only a few thousand followers could be an influencer in their own space — users follow an influencer and the content that they create with or without a verification badge,” she said.

“The verification badge authenticates that an account is legitimate, but influencers who have built their followings over the years are easily identifiable too through account activity and their engagement with followers.”

She added: “User behaviour will also start to evolve as users change the way they perceive and evaluate whether an account is legitimate.”

Mahdy also expects the influencer marketing system more broadly to weather the verification storm. Influencers still have more popular platforms like TikTok and Instagram to rely on, and “for marketers, there is technology that provides deeper data and aggregation of insights into an influencer compared to what is typically seen on a profile.”

“Because of this, influencers on Twitter should focus on building stronger relationships with their followers — where areas such as post likes, replies, and retweets (including against their follower count) matter more than a verification badge,” she said.

Musk has announced that any account impersonating or parodying another person without explicitly stating so will be banned — but he stopped short of explaining exactly how the company, which has reportedly laid of half its staff, will process the vast amounts of verifications expected.

In an acknowledgment of the potential societal and trust dangers of opening verification too widely and too quickly, Yoel Roth, head of safety and Integrity at Twitter, tweeted Tuesday: “We’re particularly focused on the risks of impersonation of public officials in the context of the US 2022 midterm elections, and have made the decision not to launch Verification for Twitter Blue until after Election Day.”

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