If you liked the military’s $600 toilet seat scandal, get ready for the $500 tweet.
On Oct. 31, Army Chief of Staff Gen. James C. McConville (or at least someone who works for him) posted a tweet on the verified Twitter account @ArmyChiefStaff.
It was a quick message, a simple “well done” to soldiers in the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, a major Vilseck, Germany-based infantry and Stryker unit, and it tagged four official military Twitter accounts: the 2nd Cav, V Corps, US Army Europe and Africa and the catch-all US Army account.
But depending on where the dust settles inside Twitter, McConville’s attaboy note could soon cost taxpayers nearly $500.
Under the Twitter Blue program introduced by new owner Elon Musk earlier this month — though now apparently withdrawn in the US — users like McConville would pay $8 per month, or $96 per year, to keep their “Blue Check” status. All five of the accounts in McConville’s tweet, including his own, are verified. Keeping them that way might cost $480.
And that is just the tip of the iceberg of verified Twitter accounts representing units, bases, senior leaders, special events, news services, and specialized groups with ties to the Department of Defense.
Military Twitter Accounts
The Air Force Thunderbirds are verified, as are the Navy’s Blue Angels. The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan is verified, as is the USS Carl Vinson (though the flagship of their class, the USS Nimitz, is not).
The Marine Corps is verified, as is Marine Recruiting. Marine Systems Command is verified under an appropriate handle of @USMC_Gear. Commandant Gen. David H. Berger is verified, and so are the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, the I Marine Expeditionary Force, and both Camp Pendleton and Marine Recruit Depot Parris Island (though its rival in Marine making, MCRD San Diego, is not). There’s even a blue check for the account of the secretive Marine Forces Special Operations Command, or MARSOC.
Coffee or Die Magazine sent multiple emails to Pentagon press officials with questions on how the Department of Defense or individual services may handle paying for military Twitter accounts in the future but did not receive a response. Coffee or Die also reached out to several verified accounts in all five military services. Several said that the operators of many accounts — usually press officers or aides to commanders — have been quizzing one another for information on the same question, with little guidance so far set out.
“As far as this blue check payment situation, this is a question I have posed to [Pentagon press officials] and I know I’m not the only one,” one Army press official told Coffee or Die. “I haven’t seen any guidance come back yet on what we will do when the change is made.”
Chaos Under Elon Musk
Until Twitter was purchased by Elon Musk in late October, verifications were a relatively simple and mostly straightforward indicator that a popular account represented the person or organization it claimed to. Users and organizations could apply for the check and be verified by Twitter employees. Once verified, accounts could not change their names.
That system vanished last week when Musk implemented a new version of Twitter Blue, in which anyone can get a blue check for $8 per month. The result has been chaos, with pranksters and some scammers imitating well-known accounts. The stock of drug maker Eli Lilly lost $20 billion in value when an imitator “announced” that the company’s insulin products would now be free.
Though accounts for all five armed services and most major commands that make up each appear to hold the blue check mark verifications from the old system, there is significant variance at lower levels.
Spokesperson for pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly says they're in communication with Twitter to address the fake-but-verified Eli Lilly tweet that has been up for three hours and has 1,500 retweets and 10,000 likes https://t.co/Ai3lq50YRh pic.twitter.com/zIWDsd8c0B— Drew Harwell (@drewharwell) November 10, 2022
Why a military unit might actually need a Twitter account is not clear. Few engage in content beyond relatively straightforward public relations, with pictures of troops and equipment in action, news on deployments and exercises, changes of command and promotion ceremonies, and positive stories about troops in their units.
However, base newspapers and other official media have long distributed exactly that kind of day-to-day information now commonly posted on social media, a move that mirrors much of mainstream media.
One difference between official accounts and personal ones: Official ones fall under a range of official records rules and archiving requirements.
Social media can also be a double-edged sword. Maj. Gen. Patrick Donahoe, referring to himself as a “Transitioning Major General, US Army” in his personal verified account, found himself in an online fight with Fox News personality Tucker Carlson after speaking up against online trolls. He was temporarily reassigned in August, and an inspector general report subsequently found him at fault for having the tiff in public.
The public affairs official who spoke with Coffee or Die said the only certainty is that the Pentagon is unlikely to pay for blue checks until Musk hammers out the current chaos on the site.
“If institutions are going to pay for the verification they would want some assurance that it actually maintains its value, which is making it easy for the public to trust that the account is an official government organization or representative of the government,” the official said. “Maintaining public trust would be the primary concern for DOD.”