IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Post-Blue Checks, How Should Government Use Twitter?

As Twitter users apply for new verification statuses, while combatting a rise in fake accounts, the chance of misinformation spreading — particularly in the event of an emergency — affects government at all levels.

Phone screen showing the profile of the Twitter Verified Account
Shutterstock/Koshiro K
Deadly weather, acts of violence and a global pandemic have pushed public agencies to ramp up their online rapid response, and Twitter is a long-established tool in that kit. But that may no longer be the case.

On April 20, under the direction of its new owner, Elon Musk, Twitter instituted mass removal of what it called “legacy” verification — the previously registered “blue checks” that Twitter introduced in 2009 — replacing it with a tiered fee-based system. Citing what he saw as a “lords and peasants system,” Musk called the new process a move toward democratized information.

The new policy — essentially a subscription service — offers rates for individuals (blue checks, at $8/month), businesses (gold checks, starting at $1,000/month) and governments (gray checks, no cost). Only some agencies have made it through the new application process, and an online application form makes no guarantee of timeline.

“The de-verification of official government accounts by Twitter is one of the worst decisions I’ve seen by a tech company in [three] decades online: bad for business, bad for consumers, bad for democracy and civic integrity,” wrote Alex Howard, director of the Digital Democracy Project, in an email.


Verification matters for government accounts and elected officials, who rely on the public’s trust to receive and disseminate official information, and use the status to distinguish updates from a stew of available misinformation.

“It is a powerful way to build trust and demonstrate transparency with communities and individuals alike,” reads a FEMA social media guide used to advise communication during flooding events.

Howard said the verification overhaul marks a massive destabilizing event for information exchange, especially since paying Twitter Blue members receive boosted visibility that gray check accounts do not.

“The impact on civic integrity may be corrosive, particularly as state and non-state actors intentionally spread propaganda, lies, [and] misinformation in an environment where official sources, media outlets and journalists have all been deprecated in favor of paid subscribers,” he said.

During times of crisis, while facts evolve and misinformation may spread as quickly as wildfire itself, the move undercuts the public’s ability to seek and disseminate trustworthy information.

Katie Harbath, Facebook’s former public policy director, now founder and CEO of consulting firm Anchor Change, said the new system makes it easier for misinformation to spread.

“With less ability for the public to know who is the verified account versus not,” she said, “the chances of the public believing information pushed from a fake account increases.”

A survey of which accounts had been verified since April 20 turned up inconsistencies. Top-level federal agencies frequently displayed the new gray check, but regional accounts had not caught up. For instance, the National Weather Service (@NWS) had a gray check, but many of its regional subsidiary accounts did not, such as New Orleans, where Hurricane Katrina once ravaged the city, as well as many of the nation’s areas most likely impacted by severe weather, such as Fort Worth, Texas; Wilmington, N.C.; St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo.; and Jacksonville and Miami, Fla.

Susan Buchanan, National Weather Service director of public affairs, said that the agency is at work applying for account verification for those subsidiaries. “Our national strategy is to get all of our official accounts verified and approved for the gray check mark so that our followers will continue to have peace of mind that they are following a trusted, reliable source for weather information and warnings,” she said.

The new system rippled across the country. In Boston, which just observed the 10-year anniversary of the Marathon bombings, the city’s own top-level account was no longer verified, nor were its constituent service feed and most department-level accounts. Massachusetts’ transit system, the MBTA, lacked a check. In Colorado, which has been the location of multiple mass shootings, a statewide health and environment feed as well as its department of transportation lacked verification. And as of this writing, many more official emergency management accounts across the country sat unverified.

The MBTA said that as of press time, it has applied for the free Verified Organization status (gray check) and awaits Twitter’s decision. The team does not plan to participate in any of Twitter’s new paid services, said MBTA Senior Director of Digital Strategy and Engagement Andrew Cassidy.

“We continue to pay close attention to the changes taking place with Twitter and are prepared to adjust our social media and messaging strategies as needed,” Cassidy said. “In addition to Twitter, the MBTA maintains a digital presence on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and TikTok to best serve our customers.”

New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) opted for a gold check, but announced Thursday that it would no longer push service updates through its Twitter feed. “The MTA does not pay tech platforms to publish service information and has built redundant tools that provide service alerts in real time,” said MTA Acting Chief Customer Officer Shanifah Rieara in an emailed statement, noting that “the reliability of the platform can no longer be guaranteed.” Twitter reportedly asked the MTA for $50,000 for continued access to its application programming interface, or API, a means to integrate data sources.

Verification losses have also impacted heads of state and elected officials. The mayors of Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles are now unverified; London’s mayor is gray-verified; and in New York, Mayor Eric Adams’ team opted to verify the @NYCMayor account with a paid blue check. (NYC’s transportation team opted to pay for a gold business account. Howard points to several federal accounts that have done the same: @nasa, @deptofdefense and @statedept.)

The color-code variation itself is cause for confusion, said Jonathan Mayer, a Princeton University professor who studies technology law and policy, a former technology adviser to Vice President Kamala Harris and the FTC, and whose new paper examines the impact of verification on user perceptions.

“The old blue check system had many shortcomings, but it did generally allow people to quickly discern when content originated from a government official or agency,” said Mayer, who noted the inconsistencies across New York’s accounts. “With the new system, checks, colors and meanings are a mess, which increases the risk that people will either be misled by a fake government account or less trusting of a real government account. That’s a lose-lose.”


More than a decade ago, Chicago writer Dan Sinker nabbed the handle @MayorEmanuel before former-Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s team thought to do it themselves. The five-month science fiction epic that ensued across Sinker’s nearly 2,000 tweets from the account took political parody to a level never seen before on Twitter.

But, Sinker said, “there was never really a moment doing @MayorEmanuel where I was like, ‘I’m actually trying to convince people that this is Rahm Emanuel,’ right? Like, give it two seconds and you would know.”

That account fell squarely into the realm of parody. In subsequent years, Twitter continued to tighten up its government verification standards. As a result, Sinker said that public agencies may have grown complacent, relying on what felt like a reliable trust standard girded by Twitter’s policies.

“Doing this on someone else’s platform is fun and great,” he said. “But there’s a point where that person might just change their mind, or that platform might get bought by a megalomaniac [who] does not have the interests of anyone but himself in mind, you know? And then you’re stuck. And I think that in the place of government tech … that is the lesson that needs to be learned very quickly.”

Sinker pointed to government sites that embed their Twitter feeds on a website as a proxy for emergency updates.

“We should never have gotten to the point where our critical alert infrastructure relied on a private company, blessing us with free access to their API, and automatic or near automatic verification, right like that,” he said. “In the long view, that was a mistake.”

Agencies would be wise to look beyond Twitter, even if it remains an official channel, say observers.

“For instance, Facebook and Twitter remain popular, but we also see people listening to podcasts more and Gen Z who are more on Instagram and TikTok,” said Harbath. “Some use messaging apps like WhatsApp or iMessage to communicate, meaning agencies might need a text messaging program or chatbot to engage.”

Mayer said agencies should make a plan to anticipate “foreseeable impersonation risks.”

“They should get their accounts verified in a consistent way, clearly signal the authentic account in other channels, monitor for fake accounts, and have a proactive plan for responding to impersonation — especially in emergency situations,” he said. “It’s frustrating that Twitter is effectively outsourcing the challenge of responding to fraud on Twitter.”

Instead of embedding Twitter on a website, Sinker said agencies should flip that logic, publishing centralized updates outward.

“We are at a point right now where there are going to be a lot more false starts on new platforms than there are going to be things that fill in the gap … so figuring out how do you get your stuff to syndicate out or to show up in multiple accounts across multiple platforms is going to be crucial. … It’s not easy, and turning big ships around is hard, but it needs to happen.”

The city of Orlando, which lost but regained its verification during the last week, pointed its audience to its full range of channels beyond Twitter, although it will continue to use the platform, particularly during severe weather events and public safety incidents, said Public Information Officer Ashley Papagni.

It wasn’t long ago that Twitter outspokenly voiced its now-former mission to support agencies with official public engagement. Just days before Musk’s purchase was completed in fall of 2022, Twitter’s Global Government Affairs team tweeted a blog post boosting the value of Twitter as a resource for communication during natural disasters.

“Our teams have a longstanding commitment to working alongside global partners and developers to share important information, provide real-time updates, facilitate relief efforts and much more,” read the post. “We also take steps to address misleading information that can surface during these crises.”

Now, it seems Twitter’s history will not dictate its future. When reached for comment this week, Twitter responded with an autoreply containing a single poop emoji in accordance with its new press policy.
Lindsay Crudele is a journalist based in Boston. She is the former digital engagement director for the City of Boston. Her work can be found at