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Government Begins to Ask: When Do We Leave Twitter?

The platform has undergone several changes since Elon Musk bought it and took it private late last year — especially when it comes to credibility and verification features, critical to government communications.

For years, Twitter has been an indispensable piece of government communications — especially during emergencies, public officials turn often to the app as one of the fastest options for telling people what’s happening.

But last week at the annual Government Social Media Conference in Reno, Nev., a government communications professional stood up and in front of a room of her peers and called Twitter a “hellscape,” asking the panelists on stage: When do you know it’s time to pull the plug on Twitter?

She wasn’t the only person thinking about it. The conference was filled with government employees who run official Twitter accounts that used to have a blue check mark signifying that the platform had verified their identity. That little badge stood for credibility when the account was telling people where to find shelter during a storm, which roads were closed, the status of a fire — and now they are mostly gone.

Instead, attendee after attendee talked about how they’ve applied for Twitter’s new gray check mark for public agencies and have yet to hear back.

The changes are part of a revenue generation strategy from Elon Musk, who bought Twitter and took it private in October 2022. The blue check marks became a paid feature called Twitter Blue, with a more expensive option gold check mark option and a gray check mark available for some — not all — government agencies.

The government communicators at the conference, which had about 1,400 in-person and virtual attendees, have a lot of complaints with how it’s all shaken out. Many found the process, rolled out piecemeal and with much backpedaling, confusing.

Perhaps more concerning for them was Twitter dropping its verification requirements for blue check marks, giving impersonators an opening for false credibility.

“Many of the accounts now that have Twitter Blue are not real accounts, they’re just bots, but their comments are being listed first on anything they comment on … so it just cascades into nonsense, because the people who are responding to those not-real comments are also not real,” said Mike Allende, interactive engagement manager at Washington State Department of Transportation, who was one of three panelists speaking about Twitter’s changes.

Allende bemoaned Twitter’s seemingly arbitrary process for assigning gray check marks.

“There’s a lot of ‘who knows?’ with this,” he said.

So Allende, along with others, has begun contemplating what life might look like if his agencies were no longer on Twitter. His agency has pinned a message directing users to its accounts on other social media platforms.

“I think there are days when we all feel like, ‘I just don’t want to deal with Twitter anymore,’” said Natasha Shahani, senior public information officer for the city of Las Vegas, who also spoke on the Twitter panel.

She suggested paying attention to the return on investment an agency receives from Twitter. If an agency is considering dropping Twitter, she said they might run a trial period where they “go dark” for a few days to see what happens.

“Generally speaking, when you stop seeing the return, or you’re spending too much time on it for not enough return, then it’s something to consider,” Shahani said. “Talk to your leadership, talk to your coworkers, talk to your constituents. If you’re not paying very much attention to Twitter, do we still need to be there?”

As for when that point might come, the answer — as with many of the current questions about Twitter — is unclear. Allende said he sees no platform similar to Twitter with anywhere near as large a user base.

“It’s a lot to invest in … an entirely new platform, and if there’s no audience there, it’s just not worth my time,” he said.

Angela Ramirez, a communications strategist with the city of Tampa, Fla., and the third panelist on Twitter, said she doesn’t see her government dropping the platform anytime soon.

“We’re probably gonna hang on to Twitter for dear life until it dies or until leadership tells us to get off, and the reason for that is just we do have a community on Twitter, especially for those emergency situations,” Ramirez said.

As for how to deal with all the changes?

“Just try to keep rolling with the punches and see what happens next,” she said.
Ben Miller is the associate editor of data and business for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.