People warned Elon Musk this was going to happen.
The launch of Twitter’s $8 per month paid-for verification, said skeptics, would lead to a tsunami of spoof accounts—and it appears those concerns are coming true.
Despite Musk’s claims that the pay system would “defeat the bots and trolls,” Twitter has been inundated with “verified” fake accounts that are getting a lot of attention, much to the chagrin of the companies and personalities they’re spoofing.
Twitter is hustling to deactivate these accounts, but it’s akin to an endless game of Whac-a-Mole (though one where Elon Musk pockets $8 for every troll who wants to play). Before the company is able to remove the fakes, though, many of the posts are being retweeted thousands of times, perhaps from people who are sharing the joke in addition to those who are unaware they’re being fooled. (Update: On Friday, Twitter appeared to have paused the new verification program after the abuse.)
Some of the accounts being faked are big names.
None, perhaps, was bigger than Twitter itself. A troll appears to have impersonated the social media site itself to defraud users, offering Twitter Blue for “free” to crypto/NFT holders who authenticated their wallet assets. That tweet received thousands of retweets and quote tweets.
Nintendo of America, meanwhile, saw a realistic-looking account pop up that featured Mario giving onlookers the middle finger for roughly two hours. The tweet, which used the name “nintendoofus,” was retweeted more than 2,300 times before it was taken down.
Similarly, video game developer Valve Software was spoofed in a much more realistic fashion, with the troll using an old phishing trick of transposing letters, signing up as “valvesotfware.” That account announced “We’re excited to unveil Ricochet: Neon Prime, our next competitive platform, this Thursday at 10am Pacific Time,” a reference to a futuristic action game launched in 2000 with a strong cult following. The tweet garnered hundreds of retweets and quote tweets.
The holder of that (now banned) account was seemingly looking to troll Musk rather than fans of the video game publisher, though. A subsequent post read, “Misinformation is so easy to spread and the damage it can cause can have a real impact on people, much more of an impact than a fake game announcement. You now own a massive platform and this is what you choose to do with it, do better. @elonmusk”
Apple wasn’t spared either. An account from “appletvpius” (with the I capitalized, to resemble the letter L) attempted to send people to a YouTube channel.
And Twitch users were confused when a verified Twitch account was retweeted hundreds of times after announcing new revenue splits for creators.
Drugmaker Eli Lilly was also spoofed with a verified account promising insulin would now be free.
Perhaps predictably, several high-profile personalities also found fake accounts tied to their names:
Rudy Giuliani—A troll imitating Trump’s attorney wrote, “I stand with kyrie irving and Kanye West because George Soros once pushed me down in the street and I was stuck on my back like a turtle for several minutes [sic]”
Ben Shapiro—A user imitating the conservative political commentator wrote, “Matt Walsh won’t stop calling me and talking about genitalia”
Elon Musk—Surprising no one, Twitter’s new owner was also parodied, with one tweet reading, “Starting today we’ll begin offering Twitter Gold: a free subscription that gets you yearly family vacaions and nightly dinners with me. If your name is Grimes. Please come back. I love you. [sic]”
Adam Schefter—Several NFL fans fell for a tweet that appeared to come from the ESPN analyst announcing Las Vegas Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels had been fired. While retweeted and quote-tweeted more than 4,000 times, it was a fake.
LeBron James—A verified spoof account of the basketball legend had fans going for a while with a tweet saying he was requesting a trade from the Lakers.
Donald Trump—Rather than trying to fool supporters of Trump, the owner of this account tweeted simply, “This is why Elon Musk’s plan doesn’t work.” (The creator of that account told CNN he managed to make the fake account “within two beers” of coming up with the idea and unsuccessfully tried to follow Hillary Clinton. It was up for two hours.
Despite the wave of verified fake accounts, Musk announced Thursday that he would begin removing legacy Blue checkmarks in the near future. That follows comments on Wednesday in Twitter Spaces where he said the company will “vigorously” pursue accounts that impersonate others or are deceptive, suspending them “at least temporarily.” (Update: On Friday, the company appeared to have paused the program, and the new blue checkmark had disappeared from accounts.)
Update, November 11, 2022: This article has been updated with information about the pause of the Twitter Blue verification program.