Technology

The story behind the ‘verified’ Twitter account posing as Ed Markey

“Truth can’t be put on sale for $8,” said Sen. Ed Markey — the real Markey, that is.

A technology columnist with The Washington Post tested the limits of Twitter's revamped Twitter Blue subscription service by creating an account impersonating Sen. Ed Markey. Al Drago/Associated Press

At first glance, @realEdMarkey might appear to be the real deal.

The Twitter account posted about fossil fuel companies price gouging, touted Markey’s Malden roots, and even featured a blue check mark, once a sign of authenticity.

But on Friday morning, Sen. Ed Markey — tweeting on his actual account, @SenMarkey — announced he was “easily impersonated and the account was quickly verified.”

The imposter account wasn’t a scammer’s ruse or a practical joke, but an experiment from a technology columnist with The Washington Post, testing the limits of Elon Musk’s revamped $7.99-per-month Twitter Blue subscription service. 

While Twitter previously used blue check marks to indicate “active, notable, and authentic accounts of public interest” that it had independently verified, users can now obtain a check by purchasing a subscription, according to the company. 

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“Accounts that receive the blue checkmark as part of a Twitter Blue subscription will not undergo review to confirm that they meet the active, notable and authentic criteria that was used in the previous process,” Twitter explains. 

With Markey’s permission, Post tech columnist Geoffrey A. Fowler created an imposter account and got a blue check in just a few minutes. Fowler also created a “verified” account under comedian Blaire Erskines’s name.

“A blue check mark no longer means somebody is who they say they are — and that makes Twitter a much less reliable source of information,” Fowler wrote. 

Twitter users have exploited the revamped Twitter Blue to impersonate celebrities and politicians; two accounts claiming to belong to former President George W. Bush and former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair exchanged tweets about how they “miss killing Iraqis,” CBS News reported

Drugmaker Eli Lilly and Company issued an apology after an imposter account tweeted that insulin would be free.

On its website, Twitter said that accounts created on or after Nov. 9 are ineligible for Twitter Blue while the platform works on an updated process to help minimize impersonation risks.

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The company also said that Twitter Blue subscribers’ blue check marks may be taken away for violating Twitter rules around spam, ban evasion, and impersonation, among other reasons. 

“Going forward, accounts engaged in parody must include ‘parody’ in their name, not just in bio,” Musk tweeted Thursday, adding, “To be more precise, accounts doing parody impersonations. Basically, tricking people is not ok.”

By Friday, Twitter appeared to have disabled new Twitter Blue signups, according to Forbes

Though the platform has not issued an official statement about disabling Twitter Blue, Forbes reported that the option to sign up was not available Friday morning. Twitter’s communications team did not immediately respond to Boston.com’s request for comment. 

Markey, long critical of Big Tech, tweeted on Friday that Twitter and its leadership “have a responsibility to the public to ensure the platform doesn’t become a breeding ground for manipulation and deceit.”

“Safeguards like blue checks let users be smart, critical consumers of news and information in Twitter’s global town square,” he wrote. “Truth can’t be put on sale for $8.”

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