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Facebook, Twitter Are Rolling Out Fees. Are the Charges Worth It?

Security and customer service may come at a price on some social media sites

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GETTY IMAGES/AARP

Best-selling author Stephen King was adamant that he had no intention of paying to retain the blue check mark next to his username on Twitter.

Such check marks appear beside certain Twitter handles that the company previously determined “indicate active, notable, and authentic accounts of public interest that Twitter had independently verified based on certain requirements.” Now, the blue check might mean a Twitter Blue subscriber. 

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“$20 a month to keep my blue check? [Bleep] that, they should pay me. If that gets instituted, I’m gone like Enron,” King tweeted in October, referring to the Twitter Blue subscription tier that Twitter’s new owner, Elon Musk, said folks would have to buy into to keep their check marks. 

Musk responded with his own tweet: “We need to pay the bills somehow! Twitter cannot rely entirely on advertisers. How about $8?”

Social media subscription rates

Meta Verified, which includes Facebook and Instagram. $11.99 a month, not yet available in the U.S.

Snapchat+. $3.99 a month, $21.99 for six months, $39.99 a year.

Twitter Blue. $8 a month, $84 a year.

In a plot twist some social media denizens will find as disturbing as any in King’s novels, you, too, may have to pay the biggest social media companies for features that may bolster security — though critics question their actual effectiveness. The fees are popping up not only on Twitter but also on Facebook and Instagram.

And you don’t need to have reached a certain celebrity status to be affected if, like King, you decide to pass. Twitter settled on eight bucks a month or $84 a year for its optional Twitter Blue offering.

Beyond the check mark, the subscription will let users continue to take advantage of two-factor authentication security using text messages. That extra security layer goes away March 20 for nonsubscribers. While two-factor authentication via text isn’t foolproof, Twitter says those who don’t subscribe can still take advantage of two-factor authentication through an app such as Authy or Google Authenticator, or a physical security key produced by various brands.

What’s more, Twitter warns that if you are now enrolled in two-factor authentication via text on the service but have no intention of signing up for Twitter Blue, you must disable this method by March 20. Failure to heed the warning may lock you out of your account.

Here’s how: Inside Twitter on a browser, click More ⋯ | Settings and Support | Settings and privacy | Security and account access | Security | Two-factor authentication. Uncheck the Text message box. And to choose another method, a good idea, check either Authenticator app or Security key.

Disabling two-factor text messaging does not disassociate your phone number from your Twitter account, according to Twitter.

Facebook, Instagram test fees overseas

Meanwhile, Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, recently began testing a subscription plan of its own called Meta Verified. The pilot program is in Australia and New Zealand, but the company has clear designs on the U.S. and elsewhere.

Meta chief executive Mark Zuckerberg says Meta Verified will start at $11.99 a month on the web or $14.99 on iOS. The service includes a blue badge and other features Zuckerberg says will provide “extra impersonation personalization against accounts claiming to be you” along with “direct access to customer support.”

He faced immediate blowback.

“Struggling to find the right analogy: Is this like the security team in a gated community only protecting residents who pay extra?” one Facebook user wrote. 

Zuckerberg said the company already provides “protections and some support for everyone.” But he added that “verifying government IDs and providing direct access to customer support for millions or billions of people costs a significant amount of money.” It’s a statement not likely to sit well with Facebook or Instagram members whose accounts have been hijacked.

Critics see little value added 

The media hasn’t taken kindly to the new subscriptions, either. Washington Post tech columnist Geoffrey Fowler wrote that Meta Verified is right out of Don Corleone’s playbook, “an offer you can’t refuse: Pay up, or good luck ever getting your Facebook and Instagram accounts back from hackers.”

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An Axios headline about the Meta and Twitter plans put it succinctly: “Quality of life on the internet is coming at a higher price.” 

Charging people for enhanced security and verifications on social media accounts is “borderline obscene” and “unconscionable,” James E. Lee, the Washington-based chief operating officer of the nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center, told AARP. 

And while Bill Budington, a senior staff technologist at the San Francisco advocacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation, says he doesn’t have a problem with charging people a “little bit of money” to cover the cost of verifying someone, “when it’s just a moneymaking scheme … then that’s a different story.” 

Can subscribers fill a drop in ad sales? 

In a challenging environment, social media companies are seeking ways to maximize revenues beyond advertising.

Last summer, Snapchat unveiled a $3.99-a-month Snapchat+ tier that gives subscribers exclusive access to a variety of experimental and prerelease features. On Feb. 27, Snapchat+ subscribers were the first to try an artificial intelligence chatbot based on OpenAI’s ChatGPT technology.

But Twitter and Meta won’t have an easy case persuading people to subscribe to Twitter Blue or Meta Verified, respectively. Here’s what they hope will entice you:

Twitter Blue won’t guarantee a check mark 

Blue check mark. Paying for Twitter Blue doesn’t guarantee you will get the blue check mark, and the benefits of having it next to your username appear to be confusing at best.

The check mark may signify you were verified under the prior Twitter regime. It may also just mean you have an active subscription to Twitter Blue and meet the company’s current requirements.

For starters, your account must have a profile picture and display name, have a phone number and have been in place at least 90 days. 

Any recent changes to your profile, photo, display name or user handle would make you ineligible for now. The account must show no signs of being manipulated or deceptive. Twitter says it will no longer accept applications for the blue check marks based on criteria established by the previous owners.

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“Twitter, it seems, isn’t verifying much of anything,” Fowler at The Washington Post wrote recently. To prove the point, he was able to buy a blue check mark for a since-suspended impostor account he set up in the name of Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts.

Bookmark folders. You can organize your tweets into private bookmarked folders.

Edit tweets. You’ll have a 30-minute window to edit an original tweet or quote tweet. You can use the feature to tag a person, make updates or reorder attached media. 

Longer tweets. Twitter’s typical character limit is 280. Blue ups the max to 4,000. You can also upload hour-long videos or ones up to 2GB in size.

Personalization. Among various options, you can choose colorful themes and custom app icons, and use nonfungible token (NFT) profile pictures. You can also customize Twitter’s navigation bar. 

Top articles. This shortcut lists the top articles shared by the people you follow.

Two-factor authentication via text. As noted above, you’ll need Blue to be able to use text for two-factor authentication.

Meta Verified will bump up posts’ visibility 

Verified badge. Meta uses a government ID to authenticate who you are. 

Bolstered visibility. Facebook and Instagram will more prominently surface your comments, search and recommendations.

Human support. Subscribers can reach a person to resolve “common account issues,” presumably including account takeovers, Meta says. 

Proactive account protection. Details are vague, and Meta did not respond to an AARP request for comment, but you will be able to secure your account with two-factor authentication and get what the company says is “proactive account monitoring.”

Special stickers. You can get exclusive stickers for Facebook and Instagram Stories and Facebook Reels.​

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