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Elon Musk’s paid Twitter verification was halted after fake accounts spread


Twitter stopped letting people sign up for its paid subscription feature that provides blue ticks amid a flood of fake accounts, just days after it launched the controversial feature.

A memo to Twitter staff sent Thursday night said the decision was made to temporarily disable signups for Twitter Blue, the new $7.99 offering that allows accounts to receive a blue tick. The break was intended to “help resolve counterfeiting issues,” according to the memo, which was seen by The Washington Post.

A number of new accounts with a blue tick emerged this week impersonating politicians, celebrities and brands — including President Biden — after the new program launched Wednesday. It’s part of Elon Musk’s plan to create more revenue streams after he bought the site for $44 billion two weeks ago.

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

And a fake account purporting to be pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly received 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 that it “is in communication with Twitter to resolve the issue.”

Twitter appears to be playing catch-up 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 on Thursday night many people reported that the ability to subscribe to Blue had disappeared from their apps.

Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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

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

Last week, he laid off about half of Twitter’s 7,500 employees, 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 asked advertisers to suspend their campaigns on Twitter, and many have done so. And a number of executives have left the company — perhaps most notably, the company’s head of content moderation, who attended a Twitter Space public meeting with Musk and advertisers on Wednesday.

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Musk also ordered employees 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 for obtaining a blue tick for users who were willing to pay. The initial rollout was pushed back when Musk expressed concern over the design.

These kinds of rapid product rollouts were especially concerning to privacy employees, some of whom quit Thursday. They said they needed full security reviews required under an order Twitter filed 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 reached a record number of active users on Thursday.

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

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

In one example of abuse, an account with a blue tick claiming to belong to Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake tweeted victory on Thursday, claiming “I’ve won. I decided it so it is true.”

But the account, with the handle @TheRealKariLake, is not the candidate’s official account. And the race for Arizona’s next governor is still too early to be called — Lake, the Republican nominee, is locked in a tight race with Democrat Katie Hobbs.

Users can click a blue checkmark and find out if an account paid to be verified or was part of Twitter’s legacy program, but it’s otherwise hard to tell. (The Post also found that there appeared to be a bug in the pop-ups describing the blue ticks — sometimes listing accounts as “notable” when they were paid instead.)

There appear to be other bugs with the new service – the fake Lake account appeared with a blue tick for some users, but not others.

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

Additionally, the company said in its internal memo that it would add a gray “official” label to advertisers’ accounts.

Earlier this week, the company appeared to roll out the second label to indicate whether the accounts are official, but quickly rolled it back.

Musk tweeted on Wednesday that he had “killed it” and a Twitter executive clarified later that the company focused on using the marks for “government and commercial entities” rather than individuals.

“Apart from the fact that it’s an aesthetic nightmare when you look at the Twitter feed, it’s simply another way to create a two-class system,” Musk said during Twitter Spaces on Wednesday. “It didn’t address the core issue of there being too many units that would be considered official or have legacy blue checkmarks.”

Even real, official accounts noted the chaos Friday on Twitter. Washington State’s official account for the Department of Natural Resources tweeted“Update: The Twitter wildfire is 44 billion acres and 0% contained.”

Drew Harwell contributed to this report.

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