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New paid verification service: Instagram and Facebook launch Meta Verified

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

It used to be free, but now Facebook and Instagram will charge about $12 a month to get verified.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Where have we heard this before? The Meta verification service, of course, is similar to the one unveiled recently at Twitter, which is also changing its paid services to try to make some more money to pay off Elon Musk's debts. Beginning next month, only users who pay a monthly fee will have access to certain account security features on Facebook and Instagram. Digital rights advocates say that could put some users in danger.

FADEL: To talk about this, we have Wall Street Journal reporter Tim Higgins joining us. Good morning.

TIM HIGGINS: Good morning.

FADEL: So first off, why are Meta and Twitter unveiling these paid services?

HIGGINS: Well, these subscription services are all about money. The digital ad market has been suffering or struggling in the past year, and this is a way to try to squeeze more money out of the services. And what Elon Musk has identified is this - there's a potential value in being verified, having that blue checkmark next to your name. And he is trying to sell it off. And we see Facebook here kind of trying to follow that path and see if they can make money. Now, the question is, you know, how many people actually want to pay this money for this kind of blue checkmark?

FADEL: But does it then make people who don't want to pay or don't have the money to pay less safe online on these platforms?

HIGGINS: Yeah, it's interesting. The change that we saw in the last few days from Twitter takes it a step further. It's not just the blue checkmark, but they're adding another part to their subscription service where if you want to do two-factor authentication - that's where through your cell phone, through text messaging, this is where you get a code to enter in when you're trying to log in...

FADEL: Yeah.

HIGGINS: ...To your account - now, you'll have to pay for that. And that's troubling to some observers because this was a service that was free in the past, trying to make the system as safe as possible. Now, if you want to do text messaging authentication, you've got to pay for it, though there are still apps out there where you can do it for free. So the question is, will users be able to kind of easily change over to those apps? Some people are worried that'll be too hard.

FADEL: Now, only a small fraction of Twitter users have turned to the paid service so far, right? So how will these companies turn these services into solid revenue streams?

HIGGINS: Yeah, very few. So the question - you look at Meta and Facebook as they try to kind of chase this idea. It's hard to imagine in the near term that it's going to be a huge business for them. One of the things, though - it seems as if it will help perhaps content creators, in part 'cause of the verification, but also the company is saying that it will increase their postings' prominence in areas such as search and recommendations. And all of a sudden, we're kind of changing the paradigm for social media. Previously, it was all about creating cool content that went viral, and now you can almost pay to play to try to kind of boost your content.

FADEL: Now, Meta seems to be following in Twitter's footsteps, Musk's bigger vision here. So what are the differences between what the two companies are offering with what you're paying for?

HIGGINS: Yeah, with the announcement over the weekend from Meta, this is about the blue checkmark, being authenticated. This is not about two-factor authentication, that code that you get sent by text message. This is all about the blue checkmark and the ability to have more customer service access and having your posts have greater prominence. For Twitter, this is - and additionally to the verification, this is also about the security authentication.

FADEL: That's Wall Street Journal reporter Tim Higgins. Thanks so much.

HIGGINS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.