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Twitter hasn't removed verified check marks — except from The New York Times

The newspaper’s main account, which has 54.9 million followers, appeared to have lost its check mark after Elon Musk tweeted Sunday it would lose the verification symbol after refusing to pay for it.
Elon Musk at Tesla's design studio in Hawthorne, Calif., on March 14, 2019.
Elon Musk at Tesla's design studio in Hawthorne, Calif., in 2019.Jae C. Hong / AP file

A day after Twitter was supposed to begin removing verified check marks from accounts that wouldn't pay for the platform’s new subscription service, many verified accounts appear to have kept their check marks — except for The New York Times’.

The newspaper's main account, which has 54.9 million followers, no longer had a check mark Sunday. Twitter CEO Elon Musk tweeted early Sunday that the newspaper's page would lose the verification symbol — the only public indicator of an account’s legitimacy — after the Times announced it wouldn't pay to keep it.

Musk's announcement came in response to a Twitter user, DogeDesigner, who tweeted at 12:25 a.m. ET Sunday saying, "New York Times says It Won’t Pay For Twitter Verification," accompanied by a laughing emoji and a meme featuring the Times' logo and Musk saying, "See, no one cares!"

Musk responded to the tweet two minutes later, saying, "Oh ok, we’ll take it off then."

He followed the tweet up with two others about 45 minutes later disparaging the Times, including one that called its reporting "propaganda" and another that said "their feed is the Twitter equivalent of diarrhea."

Twitter announced last month that it would begin winding down its former free verification system on Saturday, removing the check marks from accounts the company had previously determined were authentic and in the public interest. But many verified accounts still had their check marks Sunday afternoon.

Some of the Times’ other Twitter accounts — including New York Times World, NYT Science and New York Times Opinion — also retained their verified check marks Sunday afternoon.

Twitter didn't respond to a request for comment.

A spokesperson for the Times said in a statement the company doesn't plan to pay the monthly fee to keep check marks on any of its institutional Twitter accounts and that it wouldn't reimburse reporters who want to keep check marks on their personal accounts “except in rare instances where this status would be essential for reporting purposes.”

The spokesperson didn't respond to requests for comment about Musk’s tweets disparaging the Times’ reporting or its Twitter feed.

The Times reported last week that the newspaper wouldn't pay for check marks — but it also reported that Twitter's top 500 advertisers and its 10,000 most-followed organizations that were previously verified would not need to pay for verification, citing an internal document. NBC News hasn't independently verified that reporting.

The Times is the 19th most-followed account on Twitter, according to the social media analytics tool SocialTracker.

Other major news organizations — including CNN, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, BuzzFeed, Politico and Vox — have also said they won't pay for check marks for their brands' accounts or those of most reporters, CNN reported last week. A spokesperson for NBC News didn't immediately respond to a question about whether the company would pay for verified check marks for its accounts or those of its reporters.

Twitter's check marks, which were free, now cost $8 a month for individuals through Twitter Blue, a subscription service the company launched last year. Organizations including businesses, nonprofit groups or government institutions would need to pay $1,000 a month to keep their check marks.

Users who pay under the new program will get benefits including showing up higher in replies and appearing in Twitter’s “For You” feed, which recommends tweets for users.

Musk has described Twitter Blue as a way to boost revenue and fend off trolls and bots, but security experts fear it could worsen the spread of disinformation and impersonation, which it already has. It initially rolled out soon after Musk bought Twitter in October, but it was quickly pulled after impersonators flourished before it was relaunched in December.

The service doesn’t require accounts to be notable or verified through formal identification, as it did previously; criteria now include being nondeceptive, active and older than 30 days.

Travis Brown, a programmer and former Twitter employee who tracks activity on the site through a grant from Germany’s nonprofit Open Knowledge Foundation, said only about 3.6% of formerly verified accounts were signed up for Twitter Blue as of Sunday.

Musk has attacked the Times' reporting, along with that of other mainstream news outlets. In December, after the Times published a story highlighting new research from organizations that study online platforms showing that hate speech on Twitter had reached unprecedented levels after Musk bought it, Musk replied, "utterly false," although he didn't provide any evidence to back up his claim.

Musk has said he bought the platform because he wanted it to be a "digital town square, where a wide range of beliefs can be debated in healthy manner, without resorting to violence.”

In response to a Twitter user who asked early Sunday, "What are your favorite news sources at the moment?" Musk replied: "This."