Hack or hoax? Twitter verification mess leaves brands open for abuse

11 Nov 2022

Image: © ColleenMichaels/Stock.adobe.com

With back-and-forth changes to Twitter’s verification and a rise in impersonation, it’s becoming harder to tell real posts from fake ones.

Changes to Twitter’s verification system have already caused a wave of problems, with people paying to impersonate brands, celebrities and politicians.

After taking over Twitter, Elon Musk announced plans to shake up the platform’s blue tick system and charge users $8 a month to gain this verified status.

Esther Crawford, head of early-stage products at Twitter, recently tweeted that this new Twitter Blue “does not include ID verification”, but is instead a paid subscription that offers a blue checkmark “and access to select features”.

Unfortunately, this has caused a rise in fake accounts impersonating legitimate users and posting misinformation in their name.

Some of the most notable include a user impersonating pharma giant Eli Lilly and tweeting that insulin is “now free”. The real Eli Lilly account responded on Twitter, apologising for the misleading message and linking to its actual account.

Another person used the new subscription system to get verified as a Nintendo US Twitter account. This impersonation account then posted multiple offensive images and videos.

The platform attempted to distinguish previously verified accounts from new subscribers to the Twitter Blue service with a gray check that shows certain accounts as ‘official’.

This new label was placed on many high-profile brands and media outlets. However, those checks were rolled back within hours, with Musk tweeting “I just killed it”.

To add to the confusion, the grey check has seemingly returned today (11 November) and is popping back up on the profiles of certain high-profile brands and public figures.

Time to be careful

The current shake-up surrounding Twitter has been noticed by various brands and media groups. US media group NPR shared guidance to its staff, according to Semafor editor-in-chief Ben Smith, advising them not to advertise their Twitter handle. However, the NPR team were also told not to delete their accounts as “someone could take your handle and pretend to be you”.

The changes to Twitter’s verification come amid the recent mass layoffs across its global workforce, with reports that roughly half of the company’s 7,500 workers were fired.

A wave of top executives have resigned following Musk’s takeover, including head of trust and safety Yoel Roth.

Roth had emerged as a public-facing figure for the company since Musk’s takeover, posting multiple threads on the platform to explain feature updates to users.

The rise in accounts impersonating companies could impact Twitter’s advertising revenue, which has already been impacted by the takeover. Companies such as General Motors, Volkswagen, Audi and Pfizer recently paused their advertising on Twitter, Insider reports.

Trying to spot impersonating accounts

Twitter users can see an originally verified account compared to one that has paid $8 for the verification by clicking on the checkmark next to the user’s handle.

This will explain if the account has been verified via Twitter’s original method, or if its blue tick is thanks to the Twitter Blue subscription.

However, this method poses its own problems as some previously verified accounts are now paying for Twitter Blue. Musk also tweeted that legacy blue ticks could be removed entirely in the coming months, as too many “corrupt” checkmarks exist on the platform.

If in doubt, the best way to find a brand’s legitimate Twitter account is to check the social media links on company websites.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic