Musk threatens to launch copycat Twitter accounts

BOSTON (AP) — Elon Musk tweeted Sunday that Twitter will permanently suspend any account on the social media platform that impersonates another.

The platform’s new owner issued the warning after some celebrities changed their Twitter screen names – not their account names – and tweeted as ‘Elon Musk’ in response to the billionaire’s decision to offer verified accounts to all participants for 8 months, as he simultaneously fired a large of the workforce.

“Going forward, any Twitter handle engaging in impersonation without clearly stating ‘parody’ will be permanently suspended,” Musk wrote. While Twitter has previously issued warnings before suspensions, now that it’s rolling out “widespread verification, there will be no warning.”

In fact, “any name change at all” would force the temporary loss of a verified tick, the world’s richest man said.

Comedian Kathy Griffin had her account suspended on Sunday after she changed her screen name to Musk. She told a Bloomberg reporter that she had also used his profile picture.

“I guess ALL the content moderators weren’t let go? Lol,” Griffin joked afterward on Mastodon, an alternative social media platform where she created an account last week.

Actress Valerie Bertinelli had similarly appropriated Musk’s screen name – posting a series of tweets in support of Democratic candidates on Saturday before switching back to her real name. “Okey-dokey. I had fun and I think I got my point across,” she tweeted afterwards.

Before the stunt, Bertinelli noted the original purpose of the blue check mark. It was given free to people whose identities Twitter staff had verified; with journalists who account for a large part of the recipients. “It simply meant that your identity was verified. Fraudsters would have a harder time impersonating you,” Bertinelli noted.

“That no longer applies. Good luck out there!” she added.

The $8 verified accounts are Musk’s way of democratizing the service, he claims. On Saturday, a Twitter update for iOS devices listed on Apple’s app store said users who “sign up now” for the new “Twitter Blue with verification” can get the blue tick next to their names “just as they celebrities, companies and politicians you already follow.”

It said the service would first be available in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK. However, it was not available on Sunday and there was no indication when it would go live. A Twitter employee, Esther Crawford, told The Associated Press that it’s coming “soon, but it hasn’t launched yet.”

Twitter did not respond Sunday to an email seeking comment on the issue with verified accounts and Griffin’s suspension.

Musk later tweeted: “Twitter must become by far the most accurate source of information about the world. That’s our mission.”

If the company were to strip current verified users of blue checks — something it hasn’t done — it could exacerbate disinformation on the platform during Tuesday’s midterm elections.

Like Griffin, some Twitter users have already begun migrating off the platform — Counter Social is another popular alternative — after layoffs that began Friday which reportedly affected about half of Twitter’s 7,500 employees. They fear that a breakdown in moderation and verification could create a disinformation free-for-all about what has been the Internet’s main conduit for reliable communications from government agencies and other institutions.

Many companies have paused advertising on the platform out of concern it could become more unruly under Musk.

Yoel Roth, Twitter’s head of security and integrity, tried to allay such concerns in a tweet on Friday. He said the company’s front-line content moderation staff were the group least affected by the cuts.

Musk tweeted late Friday that there was no choice but to cut jobs “when the company is losing over $4 million a day.” He did not give details of the daily losses on Twitter and said employees who lost their jobs were offered three months’ salary as severance pay.

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