(NEW YORK) — A flood of fake accounts impersonating public figures and brands overtook Twitter last week after the launch of paid verification badges, raising fears about the supercharged spread of misinformation.
Some of the misinformation carried high stakes. A fake Eli Lilly profile garnered at least 15,000 likes for a false post announcing that the diabetes drug insulin would be given away for free. Twitter ultimately suspended the user.
A slew of other impostor accounts posed as basketball star LeBron James, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, gaming company Nintendo of America and even Tesla, the electric vehicle maker run by Twitter’s new owner, Elon Musk.
Twitter Blue, the newly revamped subscription service that allows users to access verification if they pay $8 a month, appeared to be unavailable on the company’s Apple iOS app for at least some users on Friday – just two days after its debut.
Before the launch of paid verification, Musk said the service would elevate users who lack the prominence previously required to attain a blue check mark. “Widespread verification will democratize journalism & empower the voice of the people,” he said.
Still, users who subscribed to the service have retained their blue check marks, leaving open the possibility of more impostors. To address the problem, Twitter has temporarily restricted verified accounts from changing their display names, the company said.
Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Here are some simple ways to identify fake accounts on Twitter:
Click the blue check mark on the profile page
Twitter offers one surefire way to determine whether a prankster has replicated a prominent account.
The technique depends on the prior rules governing verification. Previously, Twitter verified celebrities, politicians, journalists and prominent figures on a case-by-case basis using a government-issued ID in an effort to prevent impersonation. Users who accessed verification under the old system retained their blue check mark after the change.
In turn, Twitter allows users to easily determine whether an account was authenticated under the previous, rigorous system or under the relatively lax current one. If the account appears prominent but received verification through the subscription service, then it’s almost certainly a fraud.
If a user navigates to the profile page of the account in question, he or she can click the blue check mark that appears next to the account’s name.
After clicking the check mark, a pop-up box delivers one of two messages. If Twitter authenticated the account under the previous model, the message says: “This account is verified because it’s notable in government, news, entertainment, or another designated category.”
If Twitter verified the account through the $8 paid verification service, the message says: “This account is verified because it’s subscribed to Twitter Blue.”
If a purportedly prominent account was verified under Twitter Blue, it’s quite likely a fake.
Assess the number of followers
Typically, accounts belonging to well-known figures or brands boast a large number of followers. Musk, for instance, counts 115.5 million followers; while Walmart carries more than a million followers.
If an account claims to be a prominent figure or business but lacks a significant number of followers, that’s a dead giveaway that the user in question is likely a fake.
Check the profile picture
Another hint for account sleuths centers on the profile picture. Oftentimes, a fake account features a stock image or no image at all.
By contrast, authentic accounts offer high-quality images or authentic logos that mark the account as legitimate.
Look for a bio
Similarly, fake or bot accounts often forgo the inclusion of a bio, personal information that appears on a profile page below an account’s username.
Prominent users, however, almost always include a tagline or resume as part of their profile.
Closely examine the spelling of the username
A sneaky tactic deployed by fake accounts relies on close mirroring of the official account’s username.
Soon after the launch of Twitter Blue, a fake account popped up mimicking the streaming service Apple TV+, but the fraud carried a very slight modification.
The username for the streaming service appears as @AppleTVPlus but the impostor simply replaced the second “l” with a capitalized “i,” making the fake name appear almost identical as: @AppleTVPIus.
The lesson: Look very closely at the username of a potential fake, or even copy-paste the two usernames into a different interface that allows for easier comparison.
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