For $8, Twitter Blue users create a wave of checkmarked imposter accounts

Enlarge / Don’t let the blue check mark fool you; “Nintendoofus” is not an official account…

Twitter has begun rolling out its $8-a-month Twitter Blue subscriptions, complete with “verified” checkmarks for paid users. But the social network is also fighting to suspend a wave of accounts that are exploiting confusion over those checkmarks, imitating major brands and celebrities to spread authentic-looking fake information.

In the video game sphere, fraudulent “checkmarked” accounts appearing Wednesday night included Nintendo of America supposedly showing Mario flipping the birdvalve supposedly announcing Ricochet: Neon Primeand Rockstar Games supposedly announcing a new trailer date for Grand Theft Auto VI. In the world of sports, a fake Lebron James claimed he was requesting a tradea fake Aroldis Chapman said he had re-signed with the Yankeesand a fake version of ESPN’s Adam Schefter “reported” on the supposed departure of Las Vegas Raiders coach Josh McDaniels.

Checkmarked accounts also gleefully imitated political figures, from Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani to form British MP Tony Blair and form US President George Bush. One bold checkmarked scammer even imitated Twitter itselfadvertising a fake “free” Twitter Blue deal for crypto/NFT owners who “authenticate their wallet assets.”

Context collapsing

For careful Twitter users, there are some ways to distinguish these fake checkmarked accounts from previously verified accounts (which didn’t pay for their checkmark using Twitter Blue). Going to an account profile and clicking on the blue checkmark itself shows a tooltip saying either “This account is verified because it’s subscribed to Twitter Blue” or “This account is verified because it’s notable in government, news, entertainment, or another designated category. ” In some cases, looking closely at the “Account created” date or account names like “@nintendoofus” and “@RockstarGamse” would also give things away.

At a quick glance, though, these paid checkmark accounts could easily seem authentic to Twitter-skimming users who have been conditioned for years to more fully trust information from accounts with the checkmark next to their name. And many who didn’t pay close attention were at least temporarily fooled by the fraudsters.

“RICOCHET RETURNS?? wait why the fuck does this have an official checkmark?” one confused user wrote in response to the hoax Valve account. Many others retweeted screenshots of some of the hoax tweets as if they were real.

All of the fake accounts mentioned above (a far from exhaustive list) are currently suspended for “violating the Twitter rules,” and some were only up for an hour or less, according to reports. In a late Wednesday Twitter all-staff email obtained by Bloomberg, Musk said that “over the next few days, the absolute top priority is finding and suspending any verified bots/trolls/spam.”

On Sunday, after a host of previously Verified accounts started changing their name to “Elon Musk,” the Twitter CEO wrote that he was targeting verified accounts that engage in “malicious deception” and that “any Twitter handles engaging in impersonation without clearly specifying ‘ parody’ will be permanently suspended.” That was in at least partial conflict with a May statement where Musk said that “permanent bans should be extremely rare and really reserved for accounts that are bots or spam.”

The wave of fake paid-checkmark accounts comes just a day after Musk said that he “killed” a separate “Official” tag that briefly appeared on many (but not all) Twitter accounts that had been previously verified for notability. “The official label is still going out as part of the @TwitterBlue launch—we are just focusing on government and commercial entities to begin with,” Twitter executive Esther Crawford wrote shortly after that.

I’m actually laughing

Publicly, at least, Musk is expressing amusement at many of the accounts seeking to sow confusion over their purchased checkmarks. When one user pointed out that “[t]he beauty of this is each account that gets verified paid $8. Twitter keeps the money and suspends the account,” Musk responded with a series of emojis including a target and a money bag. In response to another user seemingly complaining about fake accounts with purchased checkmarks, Musk just responded with two crying-laughing emojis.

But many Twitter watchers are wondering how the presence of official-looking, checkmark-boasting hoax accounts—even ones that get quickly taken down—will affect the positions of brands that are already showing hesitancy toward buying ads on the platform. “Can’t imagine why all the advertisers are pulling out of Twitter,” Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier sardonically tweeted in response to the fake Nintendo account. Others are joke about how lost advertiser revenue could easily overwhelm any additional money brought in from Blue subscribers buying blue checkmarks.

“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.”

Go to chat…

Listing image by @nintendoofus/Twitter

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