On Twitter, chaos and confusion have resulted from a recent influx of blue tick accounts that are paid to impersonate well-known people and brands.
On Thursday, fake “verified” profiles using the names of politicians, celebrities, well-known organisations, and companies began to surface on the platform.
Many of them were suspended by Twitter, but confusion was increased by the company’s inconsistent responses to the problem.
Experts have previously cautioned that the new Twitter Blue membership service, which allows users to pay $8 each month for a blue tick and was unveiled by the new CEO Elon Musk, will be quickly abused by dishonest people and con artists, undermining trust in the site.
After the feature went live on Wednesday, the scope of the bogus blue tick account problem became clear.
Major brand accounts for blue ticks, including those for Apple, Nintendo, BP, and Chiquita, were suspended. Fake accounts impersonating prominent figures, including Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta, Joe Biden, Donald Trump, and George W. Bush, as well as former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, were also deleted.
Governor of Arizona Kari Lake
In one instance, despite the fact that ballots are still being counted in the close race, a Twitter account under the name of Republican candidate for governor of Arizona Kari Lake posted to declare she was conceding to her Democratic opponent. The phoney account and the tweet were removed by Twitter after several hours.
So this is all going well still. Did Kari Lake concede in Arizona? Nope, it’s an $8 fake blue check. Been live nearly 8 hours at time of posting (yeah, timezones) pic.twitter.com/elU9i7Y8tc
— Arieh Kovler (@ariehkovler) November 11, 2022
While posing as Elon Musk, a bogus Tesla account made jokes about 9/11. Tesla is another business that Mr. Musk owns.
One of the more disruptive accounts said “insulin is free now” while posing as US pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly.
The business had to disassociate itself from the false statement.
We apologize to those who have been served a misleading message from a fake Lilly account. Our official Twitter account is @LillyPad.
— Eli Lilly and Company (@LillyPad) November 10, 2022
Conspiracy theorists and far-right activists also take use of the paid blue tick scheme.
At least three well-known QAnon influencer accounts have been spotted by the BBC buying blue ticks on Twitter.
Jason Kessler and Richard Spencer, two far-right activists who organised the Charlottesville Unite the Right demonstration in 2017, have both bought blue ticks.
Following the violent demonstration five years ago, Twitter had previously taken the verification badges off both Mr. Kessler’s and Mr. Spencer’s accounts.
Used AI to create Twitter accounts
Researchers have also discovered numerous accounts that have blue ticks that have been purchased and false profiles created by AI. This is a particular area of concern because such fake accounts are frequently employed in influence operations, sometimes by foreign countries looking to influence political events in other countries.
It’s a Thursday, and a variety of Twitter accounts with GAN-generated faces have paid $8 for a blue checkmark. #BlueCheckShenaniGANS
(GAN = “generative adversarial network”, the AI technology used by tools like https://t.co/AxF5724n8M)
— Conspirador Norteño (@conspirator0) November 10, 2022
While Twitter frequently struggled to keep up with the rate at which new impostor blue tick accounts were created, many of them were suspended.
OFFICIAL label from Twitter
Under the handles of certain prominent accounts, new grey “official” badges were applied before being quickly removed by Mr. Musk.
On some Twitter profiles, though, brand-new grey official badges started to surface on Friday.
To combat impersonation, we’ve added an “Official” label to some accounts.
— Twitter Support (@TwitterSupport) November 11, 2022
Additionally, some US-based users said the Twitter Blue subscription service was no longer accessible to them.
Twitter owner Elon Musk Tweet
Mr. Musk himself initially stated that blue tick parody accounts of well-known users would need to make it clear in their profile bios that they are not authentic.
Later, he stated that account names would also need to contain the word parody and that “tricking people is not ok.”
Going forward, accounts engaged in parody must include “parody” in their name, not just in bio
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 11, 2022
It is currently unknown how Mr. Musk and his recently acquired platform intend to deal with the blue tick impersonation problem in the long run.
Although verified accounts changing their names for a brief period of time in a way that could deceive has previously come up on the network, such attempts were incredibly seldom.
In situations like mass shootings, terrorist attacks, or natural disasters, where Twitter is frequently used by local authorities, police, emergency services, and journalists for accurate information and advice, experts are concerned that the harm caused by a lack of trust in Twitter’s verification system could manifest itself.
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