Elon Musk’s first big Twitter product paused after fake accounts spread


Twitter paused allowing people to sign up for its paid subscription feature that grants blue check marks amid a flood of fake accounts, just days after it launched the controversial feature.

A note to Twitter employees sent Thursday night said it was decided to temporarily disable sign-ups for Twitter Blue, its new $7.99 offering that allows accounts to receive a blue check mark. The pause was intended to “help address impersonation issues,” according to the note, which was viewed by The Washington Post.

A number of new accounts sporting a blue check mark surfaced this week impersonating politicians, celebrities and brands — including President Biden — after the new program launched on Wednesday. It’s part of Elon Musk‘s plan to create more streams of revenue following his $44 billion acquisition of the site two weeks ago.

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A fake account purporting to be basketball star LeBron James falsely tweeted that the athlete was requesting a trade. Another fake account with a blue check mark pretending to be former president George W. Bush tweeted “I miss killing Iraqis.”

And a fake account pretending to be pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly gained 1,500 retweets and more than 10,000 likes and remained online after three hours Thursday afternoon. An Eli Lilly spokesperson told The Post on Thursday they “are in communication with Twitter to address the issue.”

Twitter appears to be playing whack-a-mole with the fake accounts — some had been suspended by Friday, but many remained online. The company’s rollout of new features in its subscription Twitter Blue product has been rocky, and by Thursday night many people reported that the option to subscribe to Blue had disappeared from their apps.

Twitter didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Twitter’s paid verification service is here. What you need to know.

The decision to pause a signature new product under Musk marks two weeks of chaos under the new owner, the world’s richest man who is also a Twitter super user. Musk, who already counts himself as CEO of companies including Tesla and SpaceX, has moved quickly to implement changes and has had to backtrack multiple times in recent days.

Last week, he laid off roughly half of Twitter’s 7,500 staff members, raising concerns about the company’s ability to police misinformation and other harmful content on the site. Over the weekend, the company tried to hire some of them back.

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

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Musk also ordered staffers to return to the office, reversing a policy at the tech company that all workers could remain remote — and making more departures likely.

Twitter Blue is Musk’s first major product change: an overhaul of Twitter’s verification system — opening up the process to attaining a blue check mark badge to users who were willing to pay. The initial rollout was dialed back as Musk expressed concern over its design.

These type of fast rollouts of products were particularly concerning to privacy staffers, some of whom quit Thursday. They said they needed full security reviews required under an order Twitter entered with the Federal Trade Commission earlier this year, following allegations that the company deceptively used phone numbers and other personal information for advertising purposes.

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

Musk took issue with account impersonations last weekend, when many people changed their name online to pretend to be the billionaire. By Thursday, he had tweeted a link to updated Twitter rules and said that “accounts engaged in parody must include ‘parody’ in their name, not just in bio.”

While Twitter Blue is being paused, existing users will still have access to the subscription features, the internal Twitter note said.

In one example of abuse, an account with a blue check mark badge pretending to belong to Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake tweeted victory on Thursday, claiming “I have WON. I decided it so it is 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 candidate, is locked in a close race with Democrat Katie Hobbs.

Users can click on a blue check mark and learn whether an account paid to be verified or was part of Twitter’s legacy program, but it’s otherwise difficult to distinguish. (The Post also found that there appeared to be a bug in the pop-ups that describe the blue check marks — sometimes showing accounts as “notable” when they were instead paid.)

There appear to be other bugs with paid verification — the fake Lake account was showing up with a blue check mark for some users, but not others.

We got Twitter ‘verified’ in minutes posing as a comedian and a senator

The fake accounts for James, Bush and Eli Lilly were suspended. But impersonation accounts with blue check marks for other companies and prominent figures remained online Friday morning.

In addition, the company said in its internal note that it would add a gray “Official” label to advertisers’ accounts.

Earlier this week, the company appeared to be rolling out that second label to indicate if accounts are official, but quickly rolled it back.

Musk tweeted on Wednesday he had “killed it,” and a Twitter executive clarified later that the company was focusing on using the badges for “government and commercial entities” instead of individuals.

“Apart from it being an aesthetic nightmare when looking at the Twitter feed it is simply another way of creating a two-class system,” Musk said during the Twitter Spaces on Wednesday. “It wasn’t addressing the core problem of there are too many entities that would be considered official or have legacy blue check marks.”

Even real, official accounts took note of the chaos on Twitter Friday. Washington state’s official account for the department of natural resources tweeted, “Update: The Twitter wildfire is at 44 billion acres and 0% contained.”

Drew Harwell contributed to this report.

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