The laptop is in my hands. It has a browser open. I am typing in a URL, in 2009, twitter.com. I am reading tweets. Some of them are making fun of Tony La Russa. It is November 2022. I am typing in a URL, twitter.com. I am reading tweets. Some of them are making fun of Tony La Russa—only now I know for sure that these tweets aren’t written by Tony La Russa himself. This may not be the case for long.
Elon Musk, the pained-looking rich man who owns Tesla, recently purchased Twitter for $44 billion. Twitter only occasionally turned a profit before adding $13 billion in debt for the deal; banks are not even trying to sell the debt yet. Musk does not seem to have any idea what he’s doing, but he has assembled a war room of some of the most online assholes in the Online Rich Asshole community. Surely they’ll come up with something.
Contrast the debt-laden, unprofitable Twitter with the incredible financial situation of Defector Media, which according to a recent report—the company’s annual report—“will focus more on the art design and visual identity of the website, with Dan McQuade leading the charge as Visual Editor.” I share this to say: Much like Elon Musk, I have recently taken a new job that I think has a ton of possibility for me and my company, but also one where I feel a bit in over my head. Musk and I are not that different, if you think about it, although I’m prettier. We have both jumped into a deep end of the pool, only I have a life jacket of a profitable company and he has $13 billion in kettlebells strapped to his body. Look, this is analogy wasn’t that good. I told you I was pretty, not smart.
But Musk and I have both thrashed around, trying to grab on to the side and figure out what works. I have experimented with various art styles for stories. Elon Musk is trying to figure out how to “fix” Twitter. He has settled on something: Twitter will now offer verification, though its premium “Twitter Blue” service, for a fee of $8 a month. The verification price was originally floated at $20—but after Stephen King balked, Musk relented and cut the price. Typically for Musk, this gambit was announced in King’s mentions.
As a small business co-owner myself, I instantly understood this as dealcraft in action. Musk was trying to keep a good, famous writer on the platform. Also, Defector Media offers several subscription products, so I know this sort of thing can work. If Musk keeps this up, one day he may be as successful as we are!
What I don’t really get, as a business owner or a Twitter user, is why I would want to pay $8, or any amount, for verification. I would pay way more than $20 a month for Twitter; even though I don’t tweet nearly as much as I used to, I still find the platform occasionally fun and enraging (not a typo). Plus it’s still useful: When I wanted to find out if MLB was going to postpone Game 3 of the World Series, some Twitter account would let me know first. I think I learned the game was banged from longtime Phillies beat guy Todd Zolecki on Monday.
It was easy to know that this news was being posted by the real Todd Zolecki because his name had a little white check next to it. (Despite people calling verified users “blue checks,” it is actually a white check surrounded by a little flower of blue. Whatever.) This check exists as proof that the Todd Zolecki posting this news is the guy who actually knows things, and not someone who has chosen to pose as him for some reason to post fake trade rumors or try to lure Phillies fans into crypto scams. The reason this check mark exists, somehow, is Tony La Russa.
In June 2009, La Russa sued Twitter over a parody Tony La Russa account. That account mocked the then-manager of the St. Louis Cardinals with tweets like: “Lost 2 out of 3, but we made it out of Chicago without one drunk driving incident or dead pitcher.” This is the type of comedy—mean—that has typified Twitter throughout its existence. La Russa didn’t like that this unnamed user was making fun of the deaths of Darryl Kile and/or Josh Hancock, as well as La Russa’s own 2007 DUI.
And I wouldn’t like that either! But somehow La Russa was able to successfully do something about it. He told reporters that “our foundation attorney is taking care of it.” I don’t know if a lawsuit related to the fake La Russa account would have been successful at trial; it was an obvious parody, and the account’s bio was, indeed, “Parodies are fun for everyone.” The suit, which was over trademark infringement, trademark dilution, and misappropriation of name and likeness, sought unspecified damages.
Celebrities were frequently mad about that sort of thing at the time. The artist then known as Kanye West went on an all-caps rant about Kanye impersonators on the site. Various fake Will Ferrells and Katt Williamses and Will Smiths littered the site. Some sort of “real account” signifier was coming eventually. It’s not as if Tony La Russa was Louis Pasteur making discoveries; he is more Christopher Columbus, stumbling drunk into making history.
Still, La Russa led us into this new history. A few days after he filed that lawsuit, reports came out that Twitter had settled with La Russa and paid his foundation money. Those were false! But just a few days after the suit, Twitter rolled out its “Verified Accounts” feature. In beta, it was limited to “public officials, public agencies, famous artists, athletes, and other well known individuals at risk of impersonation.” The idea was you wouldn’t be able to create an account that would fool someone into thinking it were Tony La Russa. You’d have to be “Fake Tony La Russa,” like this account @idiotsports that hasn’t posted since 2010. Eventually Twitter and La Russa settled for real; Twitter didn’t pay anything.
So anyway, now that’s gonna cost $8 a month I guess. More changes are coming.
I don’t think Tony La Russa has anything to do with this one, but I’m going to look into it.