April 27, 2023

In the first phase of the Twitter Blue initiative, blue verification checks were doled out to anyone on Twitter willing to pay for them. What was previously a de facto status symbol and way to verify that an account owner was who they say they were had become a symbol that someone had $8.

Seemingly overnight, Rudy Giuliani began to declare his bowel movements. McDonald’s shouted to the world that its meat was beyond expiration. And Chiquita, formerly the United Fruit Company — which played a central role in a regime change in Guatemala in the 1950s — announced it had overthrown Brazil.

None of this was true, of course.

Satiric and imposter accounts were taking advantage of the fact that, because of the new verification rules, it was now very easy to spread misinformation. So much false information spread as a result of the product launch, in fact, that Musk initially paused its rollout. The impersonation mostly calmed after a week as the novelty of the joke died and Twitter started cracking down on offenders.

But on April 20, a similarly chaotic move played out when Elon Musk continued the rollout of Twitter Blue and began stripping legacy verified users — who gained verification mostly by achieving minor or major prominence in their respective fields — of their check marks.

Immediately after the move Twitter users began justifying their blue checks. (Some are subscribed to Twitter Blue to expand their reach or upload longer videos to Twitter.) During the first phase of Twitter Blue’s rollout it was ambiguous whether a verified user had achieved some level of notability or was paying for it; now anyone seen with a blue check was certainly paying for it.

The New York Times ran a story that asked, “Are blue checks uncool now?” CBS News published an article that drew attention to dead celebrities receiving verification check marks and impersonators jumping in.

The accounts of Beyoncé, Lebron James and Chrissy Tegan were stripped of their check marks. Many of the most famous celebrity accounts, including those listed, promptly had their checks returned. But the majority of legacy verified accounts remain unverified.

“Celebrities and top accounts are now noting that their accounts, too, bear the Twitter Blue check mark, even though they aren’t paying for it, such as author Neil Gaiman, actor Ron Perlman, astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology,” wrote Aimee Picchi of CBS News.

A popular meme making fun of those who pay perhaps exemplifies the minor cultural battle playing out between the anti- and pro-Musk sides of the Twitter verification debate:


One legacy verified user was reportedly “annoyed when his blue check mysteriously reappeared, because he was worried that his followers would think he had paid for Twitter Blue,” according to the Times.

“Having a blue tick now means there’s a higher chance that you’re a complete loser and that you’re desperate for validation from famous people,” tweeted the rapper Doja Cat.

Interesting fact-checks

Cashew bark. (Shutterstock)

  • 211 Check: Is Al Fateh Tower destroyed in Khartoum, Sudan? (English)
    • “According to a Facebook post by Dalmout Media, the Corinthia Hotel, commonly known as Burj Al Fateh, has been destroyed in the current civil war in Sudan. … The claim that the Al Fateh tower was destroyed is false; the image doing the rounds online has been altered.”
  • Australian Associated Press: No evidence of link between vaccine and ovary damage (English)
    • “It has been claimed a routine anti-cancer vaccine called Gardasil can damage the ovaries and that it has been withdrawn from use in the United States. The claim is false. Experts told AAP FactCheck there is no solid evidence of a link between the vaccine and ovary damage. Additionally, it remains available and recommended for children in the US.”
  • DUBAWA: Does cashew bark cure snake bites as claimed in viral Whatsapp message? (English)
    • The cashew tree is a fascinating and useful plant widely cultivated in tropical regions. This tree is native to Brazil but is now grown in many parts of the world, including Nigeria, Vietnam, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Benin, Guinea-Bissau, and the Ivory Coast.” It is not, however, an antidote to black mamba venom, as circulating online posts suggest.
  • Ellinkia Hoaxes: Video does not show meat is produced by plastic and styrofoam (Greek)
    • “The video in question is reproduced outside the thematic content, since it does not show meat made from plastic and styrofoam, but a venture by the company Redefine Meat, which produces with the help of 3D printers imitation meat products from vegetable raw materials.”

Quick hits


From the news: 

  • AI-generated images can fool people: here are tips to identify them “How can you tell a genuine image from a computer-generated one? Visual inconsistencies and a picture’s context can help — but there is no foolproof method of identifying an AI-generated image, specialists told AFP. Recently developed AI tools such as Midjourney, DALL-E, Craiyon or Stable Diffusion can generate an infinite number of images by drawing on massive databases.” (AFP Fact Check, Juliette Mansour)
  • Why Fox News’ million-dollar deal with Dominion is bad news for the fight against misinformation “The news is bad and dangerous that the Dominion Voting Systems company, which produces the voting machines used in elections in the United States and several other countries on the continent, made an agreement with Fox News and put an end to the defamation lawsuit against Rupert Murdoch’s channel.” (Univision, Cristina Tardáguila)

From/for the community: 

  • “Poynter and the International Fact-Checking Network are announcing the opening of applications for funding to support fact-checking initiatives worldwide and reduce the harm of misinformation. Organizations may apply beginning April 14, 2023, to the newly created Global Fact Check Fund for the first phase of the multi-year program, funded by a $13.2 million grant from Google and YouTube.This opening phase is known as BUILD, and is aimed at fact-checking organizations who seek to scale or upgrade their online presence. Funds can be used for improving website development, domain hosting, content management systems, publishing tools, or improving security and resilience against hacking and other threats.”
  • The IFCN has awarded $450,000 in grant support to organizations working to lessen the impact of false and misleading information on WhatsApp. In partnership with Meta, the Spread the Facts Grant Program gives verified fact-checking organizations resources to identify, flag and reduce the spread of misinformation that threatens more than 100 billion messages each day. The grant supports eleven projects from eight countries: India, Spain, Nigeria, Georgia, Bolivia, Italy, Indonesia and Jordan. Read more about the announcement here.
  • IFCN job announcements: Program Officer and Monitoring & Evaluation Specialist

Factually is a newsletter about fact-checking and misinformation from Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Network. Sign up here to receive it in your email every other Thursday.

If you are a fact-checker and you’d like your work/projects/achievements highlighted in the next edition, send us an email at factually@poynter.org by next Tuesday. Thanks for reading Factually!

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Seth Smalley is a reporter at Poynter and the IFCN. Get in touch at seth@poynter.org or on Twitter @sethsalex.
Seth Smalley

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