Twitter Discontinues Paid Verification After Impersonators Thrive

After the initial introduction of Twitter’s Blue subscription service was tainted by users who acquired a paid verification badge and then impersonated celebrities, politicians, and corporations, Twitter suspended sign-ups for the service.

Late Thursday night, when the Blue membership option vanished from the app’s sidebar menu, Twitter users first noticed the change. The Twitter Blue sign-up page appears to still lead to a page with details on the service but no sign-up option.

It was unclear at first how extensive that alteration was.

The abrupt removal of the service, which CEO Elon Musk has hailed as a crucial step for Twitter as it seeks to boost income and reduce the predominance of bots and trolls, is the latest in a string of abrupt product changes in the two weeks since he assumed leadership of the business.

According to a current Twitter sales employee, the company decided to discontinue the Twitter Blue verified service after a number of accounts started impersonating businesses by using accounts with paid-verification badges that resembled Twitter’s original verification badges for well-known brands and public figures.

The employee, who requested anonymity out of concern for retaliation, claimed a fake Eli Lilly account that tweeted “we are delighted to announce insulin is free now” caused a particularly major issue.

Before it was removed from the social media site, that tweet had gone viral and remained there for at least two hours. Later, the genuine Eli Lilly account tweeted, “We regret to individuals who have received a false message from a bogus Lilly account.

Following the bogus tweet, the share prices of AbbVie and other pharmaceutical firms, notably Eli Lilly, also experienced a significant decline. Major market indices all posted gains on the same day, with the S&P 500 recording its largest gain in two years.

According to internal emails obtained by CNBC, Twitter support first decided that the message imitating Eli Lilly did not violate the terms of service of the firm.

Additionally, some accounts on Twitter now display a newer “Official” badge. The business tweeted that it had confirmed the news.

According to company-wide emails sent to staff on Thursday night that CNBC was able to access, the discontinuation of Twitter Blue verified also comes as the organization’s new leadership is thinking about how to abide by the FTC’s oversight.

Twitter is currently subject to an FTC consent decree, which among other things requires it to notify the government about new products with a written plan.

Employees had expressed skepticism about Musk’s commitment to following FTC regulations.

Internal messages on a business message board earlier this week, which were seen by NBC news, revealed that workers were worried that Twitter’s new executives may order them to perform any tasks that might constitute a violation of the consent decree or any other laws and regulations.

On Wednesday, Twitter’s top three privacy, safety, and security executives announced their resignations.

On Thursday evening, Elon Musk addressed an email to the whole company in which he stated, “I cannot emphasize enough that Twitter will take all necessary steps to comply with the text and spirit of the FTC consent decree.

Anything you read that suggests the opposite is utterly wrong. The same is true for any other government regulations that apply to Twitter.

An email asking for feedback received no response right away from Musk. A request for comment sent through email went unanswered by the FTC.

In a different email on Thursday, attorney Alex Spiro wrote, “We met with the FTC today about our continuing obligations and have a positive ongoing dialogue. Of course, we will continue to abide by the consent decree, which is being handled by the legal department, which is happy to answer any queries.

Regulators in Musk’s other companies, Tesla and SpaceX, frequently come into conflict with him. He has declared that he does not respect financial regulators, for instance, and in court, he accused them of attempting to “chill” his free speech rights through their oversight of his Tesla shareholder communications.

He was also charged by the Securities and Exchange Commission with civil securities fraud.

Additionally, he has charged that the government agency in charge of overseeing car safety, NHTSA, hired a safety advisor who was biased against Tesla and employed “outdated and misleading terminology.”

Additionally, after the FAA took too long to permit a SpaceX test launch, he accused it of having a “fundamentally dysfunctional regulatory framework.”

If Twitter is found to be breaking the terms of the consent decree, according to Justin Brookman, a former FTC officer who is now the director of technology policy for the consumer protection organization Consumer Reports, Musk would be putting Twitter’s finances in danger.

And the price will probably be much higher than the $150 million fine that federal regulators imposed on the social media juggernaut this past spring in response to claims of misleading tactics.

All eyes are on Musk because “we’re off the map here,” Brookman remarked of Musk.

If Musk is shown to have been removing particular privacy or security procedures or launching new products without sufficient security checks, it would be a “severe violation” of the consent order, he continued.

Additionally, the FTC will raise concerns about the new paid checkmark program under the Twitter Blue membership service because it has already resulted in the potentially detrimental impersonation of businesses and celebrities, according to Brookman.

The majority of identity theft is frivolous, and most of it has been used to make fun of Elon, but there is a lot of room for mischief, according to Brookman.

And you have to wonder if Twitter security is still constantly searching for security holes as they should be doing or if there is dialing back in security efforts and if that is going to increase some chance of a system failure. This is because many privacy or security executives have left or been fired.

The departure of several C-suite level executives will raise concerns with federal regulators, according to William Kovacic, an antitrust professor at the George Washington University Law School who served as FTC chairman during the George W. Bush administration.

At the very least, they will want to know what commitments Musk can make to ensure Twitter’s security safeguards haven’t been compromised.

Musk would be subject to significant fines comparable to the $5 billion agreement that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg signed with the FTC in 2019 over alleged violations of user privacy data, Kovacic noted, should Twitter be found in violation of the consent decree.

In addition to having to write a sizable check, he added, “you’ll see the installation of extra controls.”

The FTC might order Musk to personally file reports confirming that every provision of the deal is being followed, much as Zuckerberg had to do as part of Facebook’s settlement. The consent decree for Twitter does not require its CEO to certify compliance.

According to Kovacic, Musk “would get the Zuckerberg deal plus.”

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