Elon Musk Doesn’t Understand What He’s Bought

This piece was originally published in UnHerd.

Elon Musk has promised that Twitter’s lords and peasants system (i.e. verification) will be coming to an end. The new CEO said that verified “bluecheck” users would now be subject to a monthly fee of $8. Discussion of the proposal exploded with (broadly) media-adjacent people saying that the changes would effectively destroy Twitter and (broadly) Silicon Valley technology people tantalised by the chance to “own the libs” and make money at the same time. For once, the media people have a point. Musk doesn’t seem to know what he bought, and how to transform it while retaining Twitter’s distinctive advantages.

Many of the technology entrepreneurs around Musk rightly believe that a blue check is quite valuable. That doesn’t mean people will pay for it. Why? Because it’s a status good. There are a class of truly valuable goods that cannot be (directly) bought. Attempting to buy them actually lowers one’s status: if it can simply be bought, it no longer conveys status. The blue check is such a good: it means that person is one of the Elect of Twitter.

Ironically, Twitter seems to have created a status good mostly by accident, a combination of how prominently the symbol appears on the text-heavy feed, the seemingly random conferral of grace (Twitter initially had plans to verify most users before just stopping), and Twitter’s media-heavy user base.

Click here to read the full piece in UnHerd.

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