In mid-July, Twitter users were greeted with a bizarre, suspicious message from the tweets of many major figures on the platform. Some of these individuals included Elon Musk, Joe Biden, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Kanye West, as well as a few prominent companies, such as Apple and Uber. Unbeknownst to the legitimate owners of these accounts, Twitter users were directed to send Bitcoin to a specific wallet address, along with the implication that anyone who did so would get double their money back in return.
This, of course, was a complete hoax. Known as the “I Am Giving Back Hack,” Twitter became the target of a massive, widespread security breach that gave the attackers full control over the afflicted accounts. While the scam was largely ineffective, setting off internal alarm bells – particularly for anyone who knew better after losing a fortune on RuneScape as a kid – the perpetrators managed to scrape together six figures worth of dough from the scam before being located and accosted by law enforcement.
The Blue-Check Blackout
Interestingly enough, there’s one thing that all of the affected accounts had in common, and that’s the little blue checkmark (we know … it’s actually a white checkmark with a blue background) next to their name, denoting Twitter’s verified accounts. The Twitter team did not treat this as mere coincidence, and opted to temporarily disable all verified accounts until the security fiasco was sorted, a decision which certainly didn’t fail to raise some eyebrows.
That brief moment where Twitter halted access to any verified accounts became the sole moment in Twitter history where only non-verified accounts could roam free. It was, in essence, a blue check French Revolution, an apt comparison as the hack happened only a day after France’s Bastille Day, the annual celebration of the Revolution.
Some verified accounts took desperate measures, going so far as to create secondary, non-verified accounts and even spelling out their “tweets” by retweeting letters and words from pre-existing Tweets, typically one letter or word at a time. The majority of verified users – now locked out of their accounts – simply opted not to tweet at all. The silence was deafening (though quite humorous).
A Tense History with Blue Checks
To say that the verification system on Twitter has its fair share of infamy would be somewhat of an understatement. Particularly among self-defined “counterculture” individuals, a sea of blue checks represents nothing short of a loosely defined “elite establishment.” This dichotomy, whether accurate or not, is such a powerful force that a non-negligible percentage of the unverified majority allowed such a division to shape their interactions on the website, sometimes even their entire worldview.
The Outline published an article in 2017, noting that the term “blue check” is used derogatorily. “‘Verifieds’ or ‘blue checks’ are the elite, the establishment,” they said. As such, that little blue check can be – and often is – a point of controversy within a certain subset of Twitter users. In these cases, the term “blue check” is often derogatory, coupled with undertones of elitism and snobbery.
With this in mind, it’s no wonder that many Twitter users rejoiced during the blue-check blackout; for them, this moment was their Bastille, a moment of time when the unverified overcame “the power” of the blue checkmarks. While the situation itself is certainly minor and melodramatic in comparison (not to mention short-lived), the reaction to the blackout is evident of a culmination in a long-standing cultural divide on the platform.
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