LOS ANGELES, United States -- Twitter began the mass removal of its blue ticks on Thursday, as the symbol previously used to signify a verified account vanished from users including the Pope, Donald Trump and Justin Bieber.
Owner Elon Musk, who has seen his $44 billion investment in the site shrivel, earlier pledged to get rid of what he described as a "lords & peasants system."
He offered instead to sell the blue badge to anyone who would pay $8 a month, in a move he said last year would "democratize journalism & empower the voice of the people."
This illustration photo taken in Los Angeles on April 20, 2023, shows Elon Musk's blue tick next to his name on a smartphone. And so The Great Sorting has begun. Elon Musk's long promised move to strip un-paid-for Blue Ticks from Twitter users swung into action on April 20, 2023. Like some kind of Bibilical parable in which sheep and goats are separated, hundreds of high profile accounts were put on Elon's left side, while a handful of others were gathered on his right. (Chris DELMAS / AFP)
Earlier dates set for the rollback of the ticks -- predominately used by celebrities, journalists and politicians -- have slipped by without noticeable action.
But on Thursday high-profile accounts, as well as those of many reporters at AFP and other news organizations, appeared to have had the checkmarks removed.
Politicians and official bodies also appeared to have been hit, with US Senator Brian Schatz objecting to the possible effect on public confidence in the event of disasters.
"There really ought to be a way for emergency managers to verify that they are real on this website or imposters will cause suffering and death," he tweeted.
"I am not complaining about my own check mark, I just think during natural disasters it’s essential to know that FEMA is actually FEMA," he wrote, referring to the Federal Emergency Management Agency that steps in after hurricanes and deadly storms.
Thursday's removals follow spats between Twitter and various news organizations that have objected to labels appended to their accounts indicating they were "state affiliated" or "government funded."
Sweden's public radio Sveriges Radio said this week it would stop tweeting, following in the footsteps of US radio station NPR and Canadian broadcaster CBC.
Musk's tumultuous ownership of Twitter has seen thousands of staff made redundant and advertisers fleeing the platform.
Users complain that hate speech and misinformation has proliferated and accounts with extreme views are gaining traction due to less content moderation.
This month, a closely watched forecast said Twitter's income from advertising will fall by a large margin in 2023.
Analysts at Insider Intelligence said they were slashing an earlier worldwide revenue estimate of $4.74 billion by more than a third to $2.98 billion as trust deteriorates.
According to research firm Pathmatics, 14 of the top 30 advertisers on Twitter stopped advertising on the platform since Musk took charge on October 27.
Insider Intelligence noted that Musk's efforts to build up a subscription service "won't make up for the lost ad revenue."