By Yuvraj Malik
(Reuters) -Twitter on Thursday began removing legacy blue checkmarks from user profiles, with famous people including Pope Francis, Microsoft Corp co-founder Bill Gates and Portuguese soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo losing their verified status.
Under Elon Musk’s ownership, Twitter has changed how it hands out the coveted blue checkmarks, previously given to noted individuals, journalists, executives, politicians and establishments after verifying their identities. They served as a mark of authenticity.
Musk said in November that Twitter will begin charging $8 per month for the badge in an effort to launch more revenue streams beyond advertising. The company later offered checkmarks in other colors – gold for businesses and a gray for government and multilateral organizations and officials.
The pope, who lost the blue tick on Thursday, was later given the gray verification checkmark by Twitter.
The Vatican, which was taken by surprise, said in a statement that it was aware that Twitter was making changes but noted that the pope had more than 53 million followers on his @Pontifex accounts in various languages.
“While awaiting to know the platform’s new policies, the Holy See hopes they will include certification of the authenticity of the accounts,” it said.
Some personalities such as basketball star LeBron James and author Stephen King still had their blue checkmarks, apparently courtesy of Musk himself.
“The Shining” author King, who has previously called Musk a terrible fit for Twitter, tweeted: “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.”
Musk tweeted back to him: “You’re welcome namaste,” with a hands folded emoji.
The Verge reported that James, who has previously said he would not pay for verification, had not paid to keep the checkmark.
Musk tweeted separately: “I’m paying for a few personally.” and later tweeted “Just Shatner, LeBron and King,” referring to Star Trek actor William Shatner, who had last month complained about being forced to pay to keep his blue checkmark.
Among those losing their badges were former U.S. President Donald Trump and reality TV star Kim Kardashian.
Twitter on Friday also dropped the “government-funded” label from the accounts of U.S.-based National Public Radio (NPR), British Broadcasting Corp and public broadcaster Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).
It dropped the “China state-affiliated media” tag on the accounts of Xinhua News as well as of journalists associated with government-backed publications.
NPR stopped posting content on its 52 official Twitter feeds after the social networking company labeled it “state-affiliated media” and later “government-funded media”.
CBC also paused its activities on Twitter and sparred with Musk over the platform’s definition of “government-funded”.
(Reporting by Yuvraj Malik in BengaluruAdditional reporting by Tiyashi Datta and Philip Pullella in ItalyEditing by Stephen Coates, Sherry Jacob-Phillips and Frances Kerry)