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Twitter Blue (Predictably) Flooded With Fake Elon Musks and Other Imposters. The FTC Is Watching

The Federal Trade Commission warned Thursday that it is watching Twitter with “deep concern” following Elon Musk’s purchase of the social media platform. In the day since Twitter’s monthly subscription verification service went live, trolls have already begun to flood the site with accounts that impersonated public figures—sometimes with hilarious results.

Twitter’s verification system was originally designed to increase trust in the platform and placed a blue check mark by the username of public figures, companies, journalists and organizations. Now, the blue check mark can be bought for $7.99 per month, it is part of Musk’s push to generate more cash for the company, which he purchased last month for $44 billion.
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So now a blue check mark now means that the account was verified under the original system—or “has an active subscription to Twitter Blue.”

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So far, TIME found at least six verified accounts that have changed their name to Elon Musk. Many others, like “Italian Elon Musk” riff on the billionaire’s name with insults. But Musk does not seem to be taking the matter too seriously, responding with laughing emojis to a tweet that pointed out the spam on the app.

Meanwhile, the platform’s woes are mounting. Two top executives resigned on Thursday, as first reported by Platformer’s Zoe Schiffer and Casey Newton, and Bloomberg’s Kurt Wagner. Just Wednesday, those executives—Robin Wheeler and Yoel Roth—had conducted a live Q&A with Musk meant to allay advertisers’ fears around security and misinformation.

An FTC spokesperson says: “We are tracking recent developments at Twitter with deep concern. No CEO or company is above the law, and companies must follow our consent decrees. Our revised consent order gives us new tools to ensure compliance, and we are prepared to use them.”

How the platform is changing

Some users are deploying their newly purchased blue check mark to make insensitive comments while impersonating important officials.

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One Twitter user masqueraded as former U.S. President George W. Bush, with hateful statements about Iraqis. The account has since been suspended. Another user, posing as the verified Nintendo of America account, shared an image of Mario giving the middle finger. It was up for nearly two hours before being banned, the Verge reports.

Since Musk became CEO, the platform may have lost more than one million users, according to MIT Technology Review. On the other hand, downloads of the app have soared, according to data.ai, an analytics platform. Globally, Twitter was downloaded 6.31 million times in the 10-day period following Musk’s official acquisition of the company, up 22% from the 10 days prior.

How advertisers are feeling

On Wednesday, Musk, along with other Twitter officials from Twitter’s sales and integrity team, held a live Twitter Spaces discussion to soothe advertisers’ nerves about the future of the platform. Many big advertisers like General Motors, United Airlines, Audi and General Mills have already pulled back ads since Musk took over the platform, the AP reports.

Musk said that the new Twitter Blue would actually increase safety on the platform, as spammers and scammers would eventually run out of the means to purchase verification, saying: “They’re going to need a lot of credit cards and a lot of phones.”

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He promised that Twitter would remain useful to advertisers by making shopping easier on the platform, and creating tools to make ads more relevant. He also floated the idea of users sending money via Twitter.

The CEO additionally promised that he would work hard to ensure that hate speech, which initially spiked when Musk took over the company, remained at bay. Yoel Roth, the Global Head of Safety and Integrity at Twitter who resigned today, tweeted that efforts by the moderation team have been successful.

“We’re really going to agonize a lot about what is right, what should be done, and sometimes we’ll be wrong about that and take corrective action,” Musk said. “If we’re doing a good job, we’ll see user interest be high and advertiser growth be strong.”

Musk blames activists for pushing advertisers to step away from the social media site. Advocacy organizations have written a letter urging companies to step back from Twitter. But, this is not the sole reason corporations are leaving the platform, said Lou Paskalis, President and Chief Operating Officer of marketing trade association MMA Global.

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“Marketers are governed by brand safety and suitability principles. Unsavory tweets by the CEO, instability in the content moderation tech support team etc will force marketers to pause advertising on @Twitter. @elonmusk does not understand this yet,” Paskalis tweeted.

Data from Media Radar, an advertising intelligence platform, shows that since news of Musk’s purchase of the app broke in April, advertising on Twitter has decreased. There was initial growth seen in May, which they attribute to excitement over the purchase, but by August advertisers were down to approximately 2,300 from the 3,500 seen in March.

Twitter—whose latest quarterly filing showed a loss of $400 million when “excluding one-off disposal gains in the first six months of this year,” Fortune reportsuses ad revenue as its main source of its income.

Enforcement, and lack thereof

The changes in enforcement have been fast and full of flip-flopping. Musk previously tweeted that accounts impersonating public figures would be suspended. But reports indicate that some accounts were up for hours before Twitter took any action.

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Twitter says that it will soon roll out a process that will make it harder for Twitter Blue subscribers to change their display name after they receive a blue checkmark.

Twitter also temporarily rolled out a second gray “official” check mark that would help distinguish real accounts. The feature was killed hours later, though Twitter products team manager Esther Crawford indicated the feature would eventually launch for “government and commercial entities.”

Accounts that were already verified prior to the release of the new subscription feature currently still have their blue checkmark. It is still unclear when those accounts will lose their blue check if they do not subscribe to Twitter Blue, though Musk said it would happen in the next few months.

“Please note that Twitter will do lots of dumb things in coming months,” Musk tweeted Wednesday. “We will keep what works & change what doesn’t.”

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from TIME
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