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Blue-checkmark Twitter was briefly muzzled, and the unverified masses rose up

Can you hear the people tweet? A huge hack briefly sidelined Twitter's big names.

 A blue checkmark next to a Twitter account name is used by the social-media site to show that a big-name account is authentic. Usually that's a good thing. But Wednesday was a bad day for blue checkmark accounts. The biggest hack in Twitter history took over verified accounts such as those of Bill Gates and Apple. As a result, Twitter temporarily muzzled its blue checkmark accounts, which are the most high-profile accounts on the platform. 

CNET staffers who tried to tweet from verified accounts received a message saying, "This request looks like it might be automated. To protect our users from spam and other malicious activity, we can't complete this action right now. Please try again later."

Representatives for Twitter pointed reporters to messages from the Twitter Support account, which didn't give out much detail, but did say, "We are aware of a security incident impacting accounts on Twitter. We are investigating and taking steps to fix it."

It's quite the security incident. Twitter accounts with millions of followers were compromised. The resulting mess made it look as if famous names such as Gates and Tesla CEO Elon Musk were asking readers for the cybercurrency Bitcoin and promising to return double the amounts sent. Of course, no one who sent any Bitcoin received anything back.

It made for a fascinating shifting of social-media power. The temporarily muzzling of major companies and famous names didn't affect unverified Twitter accounts. Verified accounts were prevented from tweeting, but the average Twitter user could still send out messages. And while the big-shot cats are away -- or at least, their Twitter privileges are frozen -- the unverified mice will play. So those who'd never been granted the blue checkmark were free to snark at the expense of the major names. 

It didn't last forever. Verified Twitter privileges seemed to be restored just before 6 pm PT. But oh, while it lasted, the jokes were pretty good.

"Unverified Twitter, it's our time to shine," was one message. Another user wrote, "The blue checkmarks are gone. Unverified Twitter, we move as one."

Plenty of unverified accounts found just the right image, GIF or video to taunt the silenced accounts, including snippets from Malcolm in the Middle, Family Guy and SpongeBob SquarePants.

Some verified Twitter accounts found a workaround. Retweeting from verified accounts was still allowed. NBC News, for one, set up a temporary account, sending out news from the unverified new account, and then retweeting those tweets from its official accounts to indicate they were real. (Full disclosure: I used to work at NBC News Digital.) 

Not all of unverified Twitter thought retweeting was a good idea.

"Blue checks trying to communicate through retweets are so sad bro," one Twitter user said. "Like a genie stuck in a lamp lmao."

And as Samantha Montano pointed out, there could have been serious consequences, as not all verified accounts are Kim Kardashian. Some are emergency-management agencies, weather services and the like.

"Me, a Twitter user: lol blue checks can't tweet about cake right now," wrote Montano, tongue in cheek, adding, "Me, a disasterologist: Oh god. Emergency management agencies, NWS, etc. cannot send out emergency warnings via Twitter right now."

As of Wednesday night, the verified accounts had returned, but the unverified masses didn't have to be happy about it. As was displayed by, well, more snarky tweets.

And some of the verified snarked back.

"I gotta tell you," wrote author Drew Magary. "You UNchecked people? We don't think much of you either."

For some, it was just another weird event in a year crammed full of them.

And 2020 is only half over. Stay tuned.