‘Verified’ Twitter accounts push Pentagon explosion hoax

23 May 2023

Image: © Sami/Stock.adobe.com

Many of the Twitter accounts that shared the fake explosion images had verified blue ticks, with one account impersonating Bloomberg.

Twitter’s pay-to-verify system is causing problems again, with fake AI-generated images of an explosion spreading across the platform.

The images showed smoke and fire around the US Pentagon building, suggesting an explosion had occurred. Similar images were also shared of the White House. People on Twitter analysed the images and spotted various quirks which suggest they are AI-generated.

These fake images were spread by various accounts that had blue ticks – suggesting they are verified. One of these accounts appeared to impersonate the news agency Bloomberg.

John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher at Citizen Lab, said Russian state media also shared the Ai-generated images.

He also claimed that one of the verified accounts that shared the fake images shared similar fake images last month.

The Arlington County Fire Department responded to the hoax and confirmed that no explosion or incident took place.

There are reports that the fake news incident briefly impacted the stock market for a few minutes, according to Scott-Railton and CNN.

Scott-Railton said Twitter is currently “fertile ground” for disinformation, as many accounts that shared these fake images had verified blue ticks. Meanwhile, the official Pentagon twitter account is unverified.

“People who did today’s AI explosion disinformation must’ve known it would not last,” Scott-Railton said. “Too many people could look out windows and tweet ‘nope’.

“But if they picked a more distant area, far from a capitol, debunking would have taken time. Expect more of that.”

Verification issues

One of the biggest changes Elon Musk made to Twitter since his takeover was altering the verification system.

Previously, account holders had to prove who they were through identification procedures to receive a blue tick, which showed the account was verified.

Musk began to alter this system last year and implemented a ‘pay-to-verify’ system, charging users roughly $8 a month to receive the blue tick. Concerns were raised that this system could lead to a rise in impersonation accounts, as users could just pay to receive a verification symbol.

This concern was proven correct last year when Twitter faced a wave of accounts impersonating brands, celebrities and politicians.

The commotion caused Twitter to postpone the transition to the new Blue subscription method, but the platform pushed forward with removing the legacy verification system last month.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic