Impersonators Are Already Running Amok Under New Twitter Rules
On Wednesday, Twitter rolled out its new Twitter Blue program, under which anyone can pay $8 per month to get a blue checkmark emoji next to their name. Blue checkmarks on Twitter previously signified that an account holder’s identity had been verified—and this is still how the blue check is used on other social media platforms, such as Instagram. But under Elon Musk’s leadership, Twitter is rolling out a weird and confusing new system under which the blue check sometimes means someone’s identity has been verified and sometimes doesn’t.
Predictably, this has already led to a lot of imposter accounts.
For instance, someone pretending to be the verified account for Nintendo shared an image of Mario giving the finger:
I love this in my soul
Verification for all doing great rn pic.twitter.com/WzOMPDlDGK
— Shoshana Weissmann, Sloth Committee Chair (@senatorshoshana) November 9, 2022
Blue check accounts have also impersonated people like Rudy Giuliani, Joe Biden, Ben Shapiro, and Donald Trump.
Most of these so far have been obvious parodies. In addition to the content of their tweets being implausible for the person they’re imitating, the impersonating accounts still have handles that give them away. (You’ll note that the handle for the fake Nintendo account, for instance, is @nintendoofus.)
But some—like the fake Trump account—are tweeting more realistically. Handles appear much smaller than account names and the blue checks, making the ruse difficult to distinguish for folks scrolling quickly. Scammers who pick more plausible account handles will be even harder for your average Twitter user to suss out.
It’s a mess.
At least impersonations of brand accounts, prominent politicians, and celebrities are detectable with a little work. Many large firms are already on Twitter, market themselves to a broad audience in an inoffensive way, and have many followers. And when impersonators do pose as famous people, the actual accounts can easily call them out publicly, while countless others will do the same on their behalf. They should also have no problem getting Twitter to acknowledge the problem and suspend the offending accounts.
It’s not impersonations of high-profile accounts that are the problem. It’s the person impersonating a minor online celebrity, an obscure government functionary, or perhaps their ex. That’s where the harm will be done and no one will notice or care until it’s far too late
— Jack Lawrence (@JackMLawrence) November 9, 2022
The issues will be much harder to deal with for people who are “public figures” but not A-list famous—activists, academics, journalists, scientists, doctors, etc.—and especially for people who are not public figures but are still plagued by impersonators. Your average person will have a much harder time proving to the Twitter powers that be that they are the real account, especially if their account is relatively new or rarely used (in fact, some savvy impersonators may preemptively report the people they’re impersonating as the imposters). And this will likely be even more difficult for folks who don’t have a Twitter account and find an impersonator starting one.
In short, the new system makes it easier for malicious actors to do serious reputational damage to their targets and for folks to create entirely fake identities to spread false information or stir up drama.
The potential for abuse would be smaller if Twitter said, Look, blue checkmarks once meant “identity verified,” and now they don’t.
This was the company’s earlier plan—it announced earlier this week that blue checks would now mean you paid for an account, while prominent verified accounts would get a badge saying “official.” But after rolling out the official badge on some accounts, Twitter backtracked, took it away, and announced that blue checks would mean either official or paid. As of now, the only way to tell the difference is to click through to an account’s profile and click on the checkmark.
Twitter could have created a different color check mark to signify paid accounts. Or it could have changed the verified account color to differentiate. Either move would have made more sense from a usability standpoint. But neither of those plans would have allowed Musk to brag that he was democratizing the blue check—which has taken on a weird symbolic meaning far beyond its actual utility—and might be less enticing to people who
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