Elon Musk's first big Twitter product was put on hiatus after fake accounts spread

Elon Musk’s first big Twitter product was put on hiatus after fake accounts spread


Twitter has paused allowing people to sign up for its paid subscription feature which grants blue ticks amid a flood of fake accounts, just days after launching the controversial feature.

A memo to Twitter employees sent Thursday evening says it’s decided to temporarily disable signups for Twitter Blue, its new $7.99 offering that allows accounts to receive a blue checkmark. The break was intended to “help address impersonation issues,” according to the memo, which was seen by The Washington Post.

A number of new accounts sporting a blue checkmark have surfaced this week impersonating politicians, celebrities and brands – including President Biden – after the new scheme launched on Wednesday. It’s part of Elon Musk’s plan to create more revenue streams after he acquired the site for $44 billion 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 a trade. Another fake account with a blue checkmark claiming to be former President George W. Bush tweeted “I miss killing Iraqis.”

And a fake account claiming to be pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly gained 1,500 retweets and more than 10,000 likes and went live after three hours on Thursday afternoon. A spokesperson for Eli Lilly told The Post on Thursday that they “are in communication with Twitter to resolve the issue.”

Twitter appears to be playing mole with the fake accounts – some had been suspended on Friday, but many remained online. The company’s rollout of new features in its Twitter Blue subscription product has been hectic, and on Thursday night 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 suspend a new signature product under Musk marks two weeks of chaos under the new owner, the world’s richest man who is also a super Twitter user. Musk, who already sees himself as CEO of companies such as Tesla and SpaceX, moved quickly to implement 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 control misinformation and other harmful content on the site. Over the weekend, the company attempted to rehire some of them.

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

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Musk also ordered staffers back to the office, reversing a tech company policy that all workers could stay away – and making quits more likely.

Twitter Blue is Musk’s first major product change: an overhaul of Twitter’s verification system, opening up the process to get a blue checkmark to users who were willing to pay. The initial deployment was recalled as Musk expressed concern about its design.

This kind of rapid product rollout was of particular concern to privacy staff members, some of whom quit on Thursday. They said they need comprehensive security reviews required under an order Twitter passed with the Federal Trade Commission earlier this year, following allegations that the company misused numbers. phone numbers and other personal information for advertising purposes.

On Friday, European regulators, which apply stricter data protection rules than in the United States, were closely watching Twitter’s rapid developments. Ireland’s Data Protection Commission has scheduled a meeting with Twitter officials on Monday, DPC spokesman Graham Doyle told The Washington Post.

Irish regulators plan to discuss with Twitter the recent departure of the company’s data protection officer, Damien Kieran. European Union laws require companies to have a designated manager on staff, and Irish regulators were not made aware of the data protection officer’s departure until it was reported in the media, said Doyle said. The Irish regulator also plans to press Twitter officials to find out whether key decisions on the processing of EU users’ personal data are still pending in Ireland after the departures and layoffs.

Currently, Ireland is the main data protection authority overseeing Twitter in Europe. But if the company no longer makes key decisions there, a designation known as a “principal establishment,” Twitter could have to answer to individual regulators in all 27 EU member states, imposing a burden more important compliance for the company. The UK Information Commissioner’s Office also released a statement on Friday, saying it was continuing to “monitor the situation with Twitter”. He encouraged “anyone with concerns” to report them to the office.

Overnight, Musk tweeted that the site hit an all-time high of active users on Thursday.

Musk challenged the account takeovers last weekend, when scores of people changed their names online to impersonate the billionaire. Thursday he had tweeted a link to Twitter’s updated rules and said “accounts engaged in parody must include ‘parody’ in their name, not just in their bio.”

While Twitter Blue is on hiatus, existing users will still have access to subscription features, Twitter’s internal memo says.

In an example of abuse, an account with a blue checkmark claiming to belong to Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake tweeted the victory Thursday, claiming “I WON. I decided it so this is 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 called — Lake, the Republican nominee, is locked in a close race with Democrat Katie Hobbs.

Users can click a blue check mark and find out if an account paid to be verified or was part of Twitter’s legacy program, but it’s otherwise difficult to tell apart. (The Post also discovered that there appeared to be a bug in pop-ups depicting blue checkmarks – sometimes showing accounts as “notable” when they were paid instead.)

There seem to be other bugs with the new service – the fake Lake account was showing up with a blue tick for some users, but not for others.

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The fake accounts of James, Bush and Eli Lilly have been suspended. But impersonation accounts with blue checkmarks for other companies and high-profile figures remained online Friday morning.

Additionally, the company indicated in its internal memo that it would add an “Official” gray label to advertisers’ accounts.

Earlier this week, the company appeared to roll out this second tag to indicate whether the accounts are official, but quickly rolled it back.

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

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

Even real official accounts took note of Friday’s chaos on Twitter. Official Washington State Account for the Department of Natural Resources tweeted“Update: Wildfire on Twitter is at 44 billion acres and 0% content.”

Drew Harwell contributed to this report.

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