Last week, “legacy” verified users on Twitter lost their coveted blue check marks unless they were willing to pony up—but not Stephen King. The acclaimed author, who has more than 7.1 million Twitter followers, had tweeted back in November that he wouldn’t pay to be verified on the platform, and its new owner, Elon Musk, tweeted back at him and tried to haggle over the price. Somehow, this past weekend’s drama on Twitter was even more absurd. When King logged on, he found that his check mark—technically, he told me, it’s “a white check with a blue background”—was still there, even though most others had disappeared. And it turned out that Musk had paid for it.
King has a lot of questions about what happened. And I had some for him. For Friday’s What Next: TBD, I called him up to talk about his online encounters with Musk, the changes happening on Twitter, and why he’ll never pay for the privilege to post. For an extended version of our conversation, check out the Slate Plus version of the episode.
[You know what costs $8 a month and is better than a blue check mark? Join Slate Plus today to support a verified source of excellent journalism.]
Lizzie O’Leary: You tweeted, on April 20, “My Twitter account says I’ve subscribed to Twitter Blue. I haven’t. My Twitter account says I’ve given a phone number. I haven’t.” What do you make of the state of affairs?
Stephen King: Well, I don’t really understand it. I mean, Elon Musk, after I said that, he tweeted back. And I thought to myself, This is really kind of weird. He gifted me this thing, but it said on the original blue check I’d actually approved of it, or I had paid for it or given a phone number. And none of that stuff was true.
Would you ever consider paying for Twitter Blue?
No. The thing is, I do Twitter mostly for fun. I post pictures of my dog. I rail against Trump—not that anybody pays attention. You know what it is? People pay attention to the stuff they sort of go along with and everything else just sort of goes out the window. I put dad jokes on there—and the big thing is that I’m able to recommend stuff that I’ve read or that I’ve seen that I’m enthusiastic about. So, in other words, this is something that I do for fun, and it’s a great site for that sort of thing. It’s like an American back fence. Everybody gossips and everybody gets up to things.
But the thing is, you know, not to brag or anything, but I get paid to write. I don’t have to pay to do it. And this whole thing has just sort of devolved into something that’s kind of a head-scratcher. It doesn’t keep me up at night, but it’s … it’s weird.
Do you think the site has changed for you since Elon Musk took over? I noticed that you once called it a pleasant neighborhood that’s turned grungy and a little ominous.
Yeah, it’s gotten very strange. You know, there are a lot of people that I don’t follow who are now part of my Twitter feed. I don’t mind. I don’t block them. I think I want to know what they’re doing. But, you know, I get lots of tweets every day. Every day I get tweets from Matt Gaetz, Jim Jordan, Lauren Boebert, a number of different people who are just sort of, like, all in on Trump to the extent that it’s actually sort of amusing.
Presumably that is not the Twitter you joined in 2013. Do you think you’ll stay on now that it is sort of a different place?
The thing is, if everybody who doesn’t approve of the way things are going, if we all leave, then it’s just like walking off the field. No, I can’t see myself leaving Twitter.
So for now you’re staying.
Yeah. They don’t get to scare me away and to cheer and say, “Well, we got rid of Stephen King from Twitter.” So, yeah, I’m going to stay. I don’t tweet as much as I used to, and I don’t look at the site as much as I used to.
Is there anything I haven’t asked you about your Twitter experience, especially your Twitter experience of the past year or so, or the blue-check-mark affair that you want people to know?
The whole thing is a tempest in a teapot. This guy spent $44 billion to buy Twitter. I’m delighted that he gave $100 million to Ukraine, and I’m delighted about Starlink. The Tesla is a great car. I own one.
Yeah, I do. I’ve owned one almost since the very beginning. And I think that Elon Musk made the whole electric car stuff serious. People started to actually say, “Well, yeah, this actually might be the future.” So, there’s a lot of things to admire about him. But $44 billion for what’s essentially a social media plaything is a little bit on the ridiculous side. I mean, I enjoy it, but it certainly isn’t a big part of my life.
Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University that examines emerging technologies, public policy, and society.