Elon Musk’s paid Twitter verification paused after fake accounts spread



Twitter paused allowing people to sign up for its paid subscription feature that displays blue ticks amid a flood of fake accounts just days after it launched the controversial feature.

A note to Twitter employees sent Thursday evening said a decision had been made to temporarily disable signups for Twitter Blue, the new $7.99 offering that allows accounts to receive a blue check. The break was intended to “address identity impersonation issues,” according to the note, which was reviewed by The Washington Post.

A number of new blue-ticked accounts popped up this week masquerading as politicians, celebrities and brands — including President Biden — after the new program launched Wednesday. It’s part of Elon Musk’s plan to increase revenue after his $44 billion acquisition of the site two weeks ago.

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A fake account claiming to be basketball star LeBron James falsely tweeted that the athlete was asking for an exchange. Another fake account with a blue tick posing as former President George W. Bush tweeted, “I miss killing Iraqis.”

And a fake account masquerading as pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly got 1,500 retweets and more than 10,000 likes, and remained online after three hours on Thursday afternoon. A spokesperson for Eli Lilly told The Post on Thursday that they are “in contact with Twitter to address the issue”.

Twitter appears to be playing a game with the fake accounts – some were suspended on Friday, but many remained online. The rollout of the company’s new features in its Twitter Blue subscription product has been slow, and on Thursday evening, many people reported that the option to subscribe to Blue had disappeared from their apps.

Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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The decision to pause a signature new product under Musk marks two weeks of chaos under its new owner, the world’s richest man who is also a Twitter super user. Musk, who already considers himself CEO of companies like Tesla and SpaceX, has acted swiftly to make changes and has had to backtrack several times in recent days.

Last week, he fired about half of Twitter’s 7,500 employees, raising concerns about the company’s ability to monitor misinformation and other malicious content on the site. Over the weekend, the company tried to hire some of them back.

Civil rights groups called on advertisers to suspend their campaigns on Twitter, and many have done so. And a slew of executives have left the company — perhaps most notably, the company’s head of content moderation, who attended a public Twitter Spaces meeting with Musk and advertisers Wednesday.

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Musk also ordered staffers to return to the office, reversing a policy at the tech company that allowed all employees to stay remote — and made more departures likely.

Twitter Blue is Musk’s first major product change: an overhaul of Twitter’s authentication system — opening up the process of getting a blue tick to users who were willing to pay. The initial rollout was reversed as Musk expressed concerns about the design.

This kind of rapid product rollout was especially worrisome for privacy officers, some of whom quit on Thursday. They said they needed full security checks under an injunction that Twitter filed with the Federal Trade Commission earlier this year following allegations that the company was fraudulently using phone numbers and other personal information for advertising purposes.

Still, Musk tweeted overnight that the site reached a record number of active users on Thursday.

Musk objected to account impersonation last weekend, when many people changed their names online to impersonate billionaires. Thursday he had tweeted a link to updated Twitter rules, saying that “accounts engaged in parody should include ‘parody’ in their name, not just in bio.”

While Twitter Blue is being paused, existing users will still be able to access its subscription features, the internal Twitter note said.

In an example of abuse, an account with a blue check posing as Arizona governor candidate Kari Lake tweeted victory Thursday, claiming, “I WON. I made it, so it’s the truth.”

But the account, with the handle @TheRealKariLake, is not the candidate’s official account. And the race for Arizona’s next governor remains too early to be named – Lake, the Republican nominee, is engaged in an exciting race with Democrat Katie Hobbs.

Users can click a blue check mark to see if an account paid to be verified or was part of Twitter’s legacy program, but it’s otherwise hard to tell. (The Post also found that there seemed to be a bug in the popups describing the blue check marks — sometimes accounts were listed as “notable” when paid instead.)

There seem to be other bugs with paid verification – the fake Lake account showed up with a blue checkmark for some users, but not for others.

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The fake accounts of James, Bush and Eli Lilly were suspended. But imitation accounts with blue check marks for other companies and public figures remained online Friday morning.

In addition, the company said in its internal note that it would add a gray “official” label to advertisers’ accounts.

Earlier this week, the company appeared to be rolling out that second label to indicate whether accounts are official, but quickly rolled it back.

Musk tweeted on Wednesday that he “killed it”, and a Twitter manager clarified later, the company focused on using the badges for “government and commercial entities” rather than individuals.

“Besides being an aesthetic nightmare when we look at the Twitter feed, it’s just another way to create a two-class system,” Musk said during the Twitter Spaces on Wednesday. “It didn’t solve the core problem that there are too many entities that are considered official or have old blue ticks.”

Even real, official accounts took notice of the chaos on Twitter on Friday. Washington State’s Official Account for the Department of Natural Resources tweeted“Update: The Twitter wildfire has been contained on 44 billion acres and 0%.”

Drew Harwell contributed to this report.

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.


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