Twitter Blue descends into farce as fake Middle East takes spread
On Monday, Twitter’s new owner Elon Musk said his mission was to make the social media platform “by far the most accurate source of information about the world”.
Four days later, the mission was off to a distastrous start.
On Saturday, Musk launched ‘Twitter Blue’, his much-touted $7.99 a month service allowing any user to buy a blue tick verification badge.
“Twitter’s current lords & peasants system for who has or doesn’t have a blue checkmark is bullshit. Power to the people! Blue for $8/month,” Musk tweeted.
The plan was part of the billionaire's attempts to bring in revenue for the financially-struggling platform, which he took over in a $44bn deal last month.
But the new verification mechanism appears to have backfired, with several users pretending to be high profile figures or brands and posting ironic - and at times offensive - remarks.
'I miss killing Iraqis'
The online chaos started on Tuesday when a verified account pretending to be former United States President George W Bush tweeted “I miss killing Iraqis,” a reference to the 2003 American-led invasion.
A blue-checked impersonator of Bush's ally, former UK prime minister Tony Blair, quote tweeted it, adding: “Same tbh".
The Bush parody wrote in its bio “so what if I did 9/11,” tapping into a conspiracy theory about the 11 September New York attacks. Both accounts have since been suspended.
In other 9/11-related misinformation, a verified profile impersonating Musk’s electric car maker Tesla joked: “BREAKING: A second Tesla has hit the World Trade Center."
The same @TeslaReal account tweeted that it would be “offering 10 thousand vehicles to support the Ukrainian military. Our cars are the most advanced explosive devices on the market.”
It went on to make several jokes about Tesla’s car safety standards, and Musk’s running of both Tesla and Twitter.
A verified account impersonating arms manufacturer Lockheed Martin tweeted: “We will be halting all weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the United States until further investigation into their record of human rights abuses.”
No such investigation into abuses in those countries is taking place - the tweet was from a parody account named "Lockheed Martini".
'We love apartheid'
As well as brands, organisations were subject to parody too.
“We [love] apartheid,” tweeted blue-ticked @AIPAC_USA, impersonating the American Israel Public Affairs Committee lobby organisation.
“Elon, we hear you love apartheid! Hit us up, bestie!” it wrote in another tweet.
“We know that some people may not be happy about the results of the latest election in Israel,” the parody account said. “But that doesn’t mean you should question Israel’s right to violently oppress Palestinians. That’s not how democracy works.”
It was referring to recent elections in Israel, which saw a surge in support for far-right parties and the return of Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister.
A parody account of the Anti Defamation League (ADL), a Jewish rights organisation, tweeted: “Hey guys, while this ship is sinking, we just wanna say, we know Israel is an apartheid state but we don’t care.”
It also said: “Look, we love human rights as much as the next guy. But Palestinian rights take it too far.”
Both the AIPAC and ADL parody accounts have since been suspended.
In a post using Islamophobic tropes, a verified profile impersonating Nintendo’s European brand tweeted: “Israel will be dealt with and it will cease to exist if Mario has anything to say about it inshallah.”
It was accompanied by a cartoon of Super Mario wearing attire popular in the Muslim world and a hat with his name written in Arabic.
Twitter had not responded to Middle East Eye's request for comment on the fake accounts by the time of publication.
Twitter shelves subscription
Last week, Musk announced that those impersonating others without clearly specifying that it was a parody account would be permanently banned without warning.
But he also made light of the blue-ticked impersonators.
In response to a tweet stating “A verified Mario gave everyone the middle finger and President Biden is talking about sucking his own penis” Musk simply posted two laughing emojis.
However, the chaos of the fake accounts appears to have forced the social media platform to abandon or temporarily pause the "Twitter Blue" strategy, with many users remarking on Friday that they were no longer able to sign up for the paid service.
On Wednesday, to differentiate between paid subscribers and the accounts of public figures and organisations, the social media giant introduced a new "official" badge, which was given to some prominent accounts.
But Musk tweeted hours later that he had “killed” the initiative.
In another twist, the "official" label appeared to have returned on Friday.
Musk admitted on Thursday that the rollout of paid verification might have been a mistake. "Maybe this is a dumb decision," he told advertisers, "but we’ll see.”