The parody accounts spread on Twitter.
After Twitter’s new owner Elon Musk revamped a subscription service to give users a coveted verification check for $8 a month, users started abusing the program this week. Twitter accounts with check marks masqueraded as companies like Eli Lilly and PepsiCo, sending fake messages about free insulin and Coca-Cola’s superiority. One account with a check posed as Tesla, Mr. Musk’s electric car company, and bragged about its use of child labor.
On Thursday night, the chaos on Twitter seemed to have become too much for Mr. musk.
“We urgently need to roll out official labels to major advertisers for impersonation,” a Twitter technical manager wrote in an internal report from The New York Times. “Request is from Elon.”
Twitter, the so-called global town square, with some 240 million users, has descended in recent days in a messy whirl of accounts posing as high-profile brands and sending disruptive tweets. While Twitter has long been plagued with falsehoods and poisonous speech, some users are taking advantage of the changes made by Mr. Musk — who took over the service in a $44 billion buyout last month — to merrily wreak havoc.
The imitation and jokes can have serious consequences. Graham Brookie, director of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, which studies online disinformation, said the quality of information and the credibility of content on Twitter could suffer if fraudsters confuse and reinforce lies. People can get check marks on their bills and spread lies to make some money, he added.
“Selling the truth is dangerous and unacceptable,” Massachusetts Democrat Edward J. Markey wrote in a letter to Mr. Musk on Friday after a Washington Post reporter impersonated the politician with a check mark on Twitter to let go. see how easy it was. “Twitter needs to explain how this happened and how it will prevent it from happening again.”
On Thursday evening, Twitter Blue, the subscription service that people pay to get a checkmark, appeared to be on hold for a while. The check mark has long been a powerful authentication symbol for celebrities, businesses and politicians. It was previously free and was only granted after Twitter verified the account holder’s identity.
Mr. Musk and Twitter did not comment on Twitter Blue’s status. But the 51-year-old billionaire didn’t seem to regret his changes and the activity on the platform. He said in a tweet early Friday that Twitter “reached the highest level of active users today”.
The disarray was the latest outburst of Mr Musk’s ownership of Twitter. Since the completion of his acquisition, Mr. Musk has fired about half of Twitter’s 7,500 employees, has told brands he would use a “thermonuclear name and disgrace” if they stopped their ads, and warned that the company is doing so badly. does that his money flow was negative and could be on the verge of bankruptcy. Employees, he said, should be more “hard core.”
One of Mr. Musk’s solutions is to aim for more subscription revenue, including asking $8 a month for Twitter Blue and giving those who pay a check. The company started experimenting with Twitter Blue last year, charging users $5 a month for features like the ability to undo or edit messages and customize the app’s home screen.
Changes on Elon Musk’s Twitter
A quick revamp. Elon Musk has acted swiftly to revamp Twitter since he completed his $44 billion buyout of the social media company in October, warning of a bleak financial picture and a need for new products. Here’s an overview of some of the changes so far:
Musk’s new Twitter Blue, which is only available in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, was rolled out last Saturday, but without any features, including the check marks. After deliberating over the spread of political disinformation, the company paused the debut of the ticks until after Tuesday’s midterm elections.
Mr. Musk also seemed aware of the dangers of impersonation on duty.
“Going forward, all Twitter acts that engage in impersonation without clearly specifying ‘parody’ will be permanently suspended,” he tweeted Sunday after some Twitter users, including comedian Kathy Griffin, changed their profile photos and display names to his account. imitate. Ms. Griffin was later suspended from Twitter.
On Wednesday, accounts that had paid for the new Twitter Blue — including parody accounts, conspiracy theorists and white nationalists, according to Media Matters for America — started getting their ticks. Some accounts quickly went wild.
An impostor account with a checkmark disguised as Eli Lilly tweeted Thursday that the drug company would provide its customers with free insulin. Shares of Eli Lilly plunged more than 5 percent in morning trading on Friday and were still down more than 4 percent at the close.
Another checkmarked account pretended to be Nintendo of America and sent out a tweet in which the video game company’s Mario character makes a rude gesture.
Targets of the pranksters rushed to deny the false statements. An Eli Lilly spokeswoman said in a statement that the company is working to correct the situation. A Nintendo spokesperson did not immediately comment.
To crack down on impersonators, Twitter said accounts created on or after Wednesday will not be able to subscribe to Twitter Blue. The company also briefly blocked changing their display names on the platform on Wednesday. Some users who changed their name to joke around found that they couldn’t change their name back.
The rapper Doja Cat, who changed her display name to Christmas in anticipation of the holidays, told Mr Musk tweeted on Thursday that she didn’t want her display name to remain Christmas forever and asked for help.
After Mr. Musk replied that she could change it, Doja Cat referred to himself as “Elon Musk,” violating its ban on impersonators. As of Friday afternoon, her Twitter display name simply read “fart.”
A Doja Cat representative did not respond to requests for comment.
At Twitter, Richard Rabbat, vice president of product management, tweeted on Thursday that there was “a new context” for the tick. “Why is it hard to understand?” he added.
More about Elon Musk’s Twitter takeover
By Thursday evening, the confusion Twitter had become too much. Shortly before midnight, the company said: it would add an ‘official’ label to some accounts to ‘fight impersonation’. Less than 48 hours previously, the company had said it would not add such a label.
And on Friday night, Mr. Musk tweeted that a “Parody” subscript would be added to accounts that do parody impersonations.
An internal Twitter log from The Times showed that as of Thursday, more than 140,000 accounts had signed up for the new Twitter Blue.
In one of his first tweets as the new boss, Mr. Musk wrote, “Comedy is now legal on Twitter.” But Twitter’s pranksters didn’t make many brands laugh.
“The near future on this platform, which is essentially the news cycle, is quite bleak from a disinformation standpoint,” said Mr Brookie.
On Friday, the theater publication Playbill also said it would stop posting to its Twitter account, which has 412,000 followers. It said it would focus its social media efforts on Facebook, Instagram and TikTok.
“In recent weeks, Twitter has expanded its tolerance for hate, negativity and misinformation,” Playbill CEO Phil Birsh and chief operating officer Alex Birsh said in a statement. “As a respected news outlet for the Broadway community, we feel we can no longer continue to operate a platform where the line between real news and insidious rhetoric has been blurred beyond recognition.”
Some Twitter users used the moment to boost engagement on their official accounts. The Washington State Department of Natural Resources joked on its account that the “wild Twitter fire on 44 billion acres and 0 percent contained.”
Rachel Terlep, the social media manager who runs the account, said the tweet had generated more than 1,000 new followers for a related account alerting users to wildfires in Washington.
Graydon Carter, the former editor of Vanity Fair who punctured New York celebrities like Donald J. Trump as editor of Spy Magazine in the 1980s, distinguished between clearly labeled internet satire and the wave of impostors hiding behind social media. to harm the reputation and stock prices of legitimate entities.
“I’m a big believer in Internet identification,” said Mr. Carter. “You need a license for everything, including owning a dog in New York.”
Michael Paulson reporting contributed.