On a perfect spring day in 2017, I joined a gathering of right-wing internet trolls in Austin, Texas. They’d arranged the meetup to support the Infowars founder and conspiracist Alex Jones during his child-custody trial; I was reporting on all this and ended up in a stilted conversation with a prolific 4chan poster. We realized that we were born only a few miles apart from each other in Ohio, which apparently came as a shock. I thought all you blue checks were from New York City or California, he said with no trace of irony.
That was the first time I’d ever been referred to in the physical world as a “blue check.” Technically, the term meant that I was somebody who’d been verified on Twitter, but it was more familiar to me as a derogatory bit of internet slang. Sometime in the late 2010s, the moniker became a handy stand-in for a large class of mostly left-leaning journalists, celebrities, activists, and other personalities on Twitter. Blue checks were supposedly privileged and out of touch, like the “liberal elites” who preceded them.