Fact Check: How to spot imposter Twitter accounts

The rollout of Twitter's subscription service has prompted a string of accounts impersonating public figures, sparking concerns about the potential for scams and disinformation.

| Updated on: Nov 12 2022, 13:42 IST
Elon Musk Twitter Bankruptcy Talk: Timeline
1/13 He’s told employees to brace themselves for long hours, that “the road ahead is arduous and will require intense work to succeed,” and said bankruptcy was possible. Here’s how the saga is unfolding: (Bloomberg)
2/13 Oct. 27: Musk takes control- His first act is to fire the Board along with CEO Parag Agrawal, CFO Ned Segal, head of legal Vijaya Gadde and Counsel Sean Edgett. Musk forms advisory team that includes celebrity attorney Alex Spiro, VC David Sacks, Neuralink CEO and head of Musk’s family office Jared Birchall, investor Jason Calacanis, and partner of Andreessen Horowitz Sriram Krishnan. (Reuters)
3/13 Oct. 28: Brands begin to take pause- As Musk plans to unban accounts and says he will charge for user verification, advertisers suspend ads. (AFP)
4/13 Oct. 31: Top tweeters protest- Amid murmurings of plans to charge existing verified accounts, author Steven King tweets, “$20 a month to keep my blue check? F**k that, they should pay me. If that gets instituted, I’m gone like Enron.” (AFP)
5/13 Nov. 1: Teams working around the clock- The product team works over the weekend on Musk’s idea to charge users for blue check marks. A photo of product director Esther Crawford sleeping on the floor of a conference room, trying to make the deadline, goes viral. Meanwhile, managers are asked to make lists of who can be fired. Employees print out their software code for review by Musk and engineers from Tesla, to determine if their contributions are worthy of keeping a job. (REUTERS)
6/13 Nov. 3: Massive layoffs begin- A memo is sent to all employees telling them of imminent layoffs and to watch for an email with the subject line: “Your Role at Twitter.” Badge access to offices is suspended as 3,700 staffers receive word that they’ve been cut. Realizing employees essential for the continuity of the business have been let go by mistake, some are asked to come back. (AP)
7/13 Co-founder EV Williams tweets, “Heart’s out to the tweeps getting laid off today.” Co-founder Jack Dorsey adds, “I realize many are angry with me. I own the responsibility for why everyone is in this situation: I grew the company size too quickly. I apologize for that.” (REUTERS)
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8/13 Nov. 5-6: Musk responds to celebrity protests- Unrest grows on the platform over the weekend, particularly over the issue of impersonator accounts. Actress Valerie Bertinelli starts a movement of people changing their Twitter names to “Elon Musk.” Comedian Kathy Griffin joins the protest, finds her account locked. Then Musk announces, “Going forward, any Twitter handles engaging in impersonation without clearly specifying `parody’ will be permanently suspended.” (AP)
9/13 Nov. 8: Musk sells more Tesla- Despite a previous vow not to sell any more Tesla stock, Musk sells an additional $3.95 billion, bringing the total sold in past year to $36 billion. (REUTERS)
10/13 Nov. 9: Musk Blue tick mark- Blue check mark option becomes available for purchase, and immediately becomes a tool for impersonators. An account masquerading as Nintendo Inc. posts an image of Super Mario holding up a middle finger. (REUTERS)
11/13 Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, and a close cadre of advisers are considering a host of changes to the way Twitter is run and makes money. (REUTERS)
12/13 Nov. 10: More key executives quit as Musk warns of bankruptcy- In his first meeting with employees, Musk tells them to brace for 80-hour weeks and requires everyone back in the office full time. He also says bankruptcy for the company is not out of the question if it doesn’t start generating more cash. Several executives in charge of keeping Twitter safe and accountable to its users quit, including chief information security officer Lea Kissner, chief privacy officer Damien Kieran and chief compliance Marianne Fogarty.. (AFP)
13/13 Nov. 11: Verified accounts get “Official” tags- Twitter adds badges that say “offiical” to verified accounts in some places, though confusion abounds. More brands depart the platform. (REUTERS)
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How to spot imposter accounts on Twitter? (AP)

The rollout of Twitter's subscription service has prompted a string of accounts impersonating public figures, sparking concerns about the potential for scams and disinformation.

Multiple accounts posing as politicians, celebrities and corporate brands have been suspended after being identified as inauthentic.

The impostors had paid the $7.99 required to display a verified blue tick -- an identifier previously reserved for notable people or institutions -- under changes brought in by new Twitter owner Elon Musk.

There are steps people can take to determine whether a Twitter account with a blue checkmark is authentic, including checking the account's handle, creation date and how many followers it has -- and noting who is following it.

For example, one account purported to show NBA star Lebron James requesting a trade from his team. James' authentic handle - @KingJames - was created in 2009 and has more than 52 million followers. These include other NBA players and the Los Angeles Lakers, his team.

But the account that impersonated him used the handle @KINGJamez, came online in November 2022 and had fewer than 200 followers, according to archived captures.

Twitter users can click a profile's badge to see whether the account paid for it. The pop-up on paid accounts reads: "This account is verified because it's subscribed to Twitter Blue."

For accounts verified for notability, it says: "This account is verified because it's notable in government, news, entertainment, or another designated category."

Government agencies and public figures often list Twitter information on websites and other platforms, such as Facebook.

Dan Evon, senior manager of education design at the non-profit News Literacy Project, said people can always "perform a logic check."

"Many of these impostor accounts are posting overtly inflammatory messages," Evon said. "If the account is posting something newsworthy, has it made the news?"

- Fake accounts quickly created -

Twitter, which did not respond to an AFP inquiry, has rules against misleading and deceptive identities. Musk tweeted Sunday that "any Twitter handles engaging in impersonation without clearly specifying 'parody' will be permanently suspended."

But the problem remains.

"It has simply become more difficult to determine credibility on the platform," said Gordon Pennycook, a behavioral scientist at the University of Regina.

Brian Whelan, who created a fake Donald Trump account, told AFP the process was quick.

"I rebranded an old account in less than five minutes, got the verification immediately using a Revolut card in my own name, then was able to use the account for two hours," said Whelan, head of video and social at the London-based Times Radio.

Other copycat accounts used paid badges to pretend to be lawyer Rudy Giuliani, the video game company Nintendo, and Twitter itself.

The new ease of obtaining a blue badge makes media literacy more crucial than ever, as the new system could open the door to disinformation from accounts posing as government leaders and agencies, health officials, weather channels, financial advisors and more.

"This change opens so many possibilities for bad actors that it's going to be difficult for fact-checkers to keep up," Evon added.

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First Published Date: 12 Nov, 13:42 IST