Verified parody account of Doug Ford highlights issue with new Twitter service

By Lucas Casaletto

As Elon Musk continues to make sweeping and erratic modifications to Twitter’s verified accounts, one newly created parody profile of Ontario’s premier is starting to confuse and alienate those on the social media platform.

Musk recently announced that users could subscribe to Twitter Blue for $8 a month, which would grant that person a blue check mark, signalling that account was verified and reputable.

Before Musk took control of the social media platform two weeks ago, the blue check was granted to celebrities and journalists and verified by the platform to prevent impersonation. Now, anyone can get one as long as they have a phone, a credit card and are willing to spend $8 a month.

The change has led to several high-profile parody accounts, including a verified Doug Ford spoof profile, among many others on the social media platform. This forced Twitter to re-introduce an “official” tag on every tweet, ostensibly indicating that the account is genuine and not a parody.

That hasn’t stopped the fake accounts from tweeting.

“Folks, no one is happier to hear this than I am. There’s nothing I hate more than a hooligan with a blue check mark,” Ford’s parody account tweeted on Friday.

The verified spoof account has since been suspended by Twitter.

After an imposter account registered under the revamped Twitter Blue system tweeted that insulin was free, pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly & Co. had to post an apology.

Nintendo, Lockheed Martin, Musk’s own Tesla and SpaceX were also egregiously impersonated as well as the accounts of various professional sports figures, including Edmonton Oilers NHL superstar Connor McDavid and NBA superstar LeBron James, to name a few.

Shortly after Twitter rolled out the new subscription service, an account pretending to be former U.S. president George W. Bush tweeted, “I miss killing Iraqis.”

A separate Twitter account parodying former UK prime minister Tony Blair retweeted the Bush post, adding: “Same [to be honest].”

There are now two categories of blue check marks that look identical. One includes the accounts verified before Musk took the helm.

It notes that “This account is verified because it’s notable in government, news, entertainment, or another designated category.” The other states that the account subscribes to Twitter Blue.

CityNews has reached out to Twitter’s communications department for comment but did not receive a response.

Other controversial figures, such as Kyle Rittenhouse, the 19-year-old American teenager acquitted on murder charges for shooting three men, two fatally, during the civil unrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in August 2020, was verified by a blue checkmark through Twitter’s new subscription service.

He thanked Musk for changing Twitter’s verification rules, saying he was “elite now.”

Musk eventually noted the high number of parody accounts on his platform and on Thursday, the Tesla CEO said that fake accounts must have “parody” in their Twitter name, not just in a bio portion of the account.

“To be more precise accounts doing parody impersonations. Basically, tricking people is not ok,” a follow-up tweet read.

Musk also tweeted that “too many corrupt legacy Blue ‘verification’ checkmarks exist, so no choice but to remove legacy Blue in coming months.”

Thursday night, Twitter also once again began adding gray “official” labels to some prominent accounts. It had rolled out the labels earlier this week, only to kill them a few hours later.

They returned Thursday night, at least for some accounts – including Twitter’s own, as well as big companies like Amazon, Nike and Coca-Cola, before many vanished again.

For advertisers who have put their business with Twitter on hold, the fake accounts could be the last straw: Musk’s rocky run atop the platform has raised questions about its survivability.

The impostors can cause big problems, even if they’re taken down quickly.

Twitter is heavily dependent on ads and about 90% of its revenue comes from advertisers. But each change that Musk is rolling out – or rolling back – makes the site less appealing for big brands.

“It has become chaos,” said Richard Levick, CEO of public relations firm Levick. “Who buys into chaos?”

A bigger issue for Musk might be the risk to his reputation as a model tech executive, since the rollout of different types of verifications and other changes have been botched, Levick added.

“It’s another example something not very well thought out, and that’s what happens when you rush,” Levick said. “Musk has been known as a trusted visionary and magician _ he can’t lose that moniker and that’s what’s at risk right now,” Levick said.

With files from The Associated Press

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