Tweets Become Harder to Believe as Labels Change Meaning

At least 11 new accounts began impersonating the Los Angeles Police Department last week, 24 hours after Twitter removed the blue check mark that historically served as a means of identifying public authorities.

More than 20 agencies purported to be various agencies of the federal government. Someone impersonating the mayor of New York created the Traffic and Parking Enforcement Administration and promised to cut the police budget by 70%.

Musk’s decision to stop ticking off verified people and groups, instead ticking off those who paid, was a recent uproar on Twitter. It was acquired last year for $44 billion.

This shift has rocked the platform that was once considered essential for following the news happening around the world. Information on Twitter is becoming increasingly unreliable. There has been a surge in accounts impersonating government officials, government agencies, and celebrities. So is propaganda and disinformation that can further undermine trust in public institutions. The results are just beginning to appear.

Alyssa Kahn, a research associate in the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, said Twitter under Musk has systematically dismantled safeguards put in place after years of deliberation and debate. said there is.

“When so many things go wrong at once, it’s like: Which fire do you put out first?” she said.

After a public dispute with NPR over Twitter mislabeling state media, the platform last week identified all state media, including those controlled by authoritarian states such as Russia, China and Iran. Removed the label.

According to research by the Digital Forensic Research Lab and Reset, another London-based organization that researches disinformation, that, coupled with the decision to stop blocking endorsements to them, has led to the involvement of many of these accounts. consistent with the surge.

In Sudan, new Twitter accounts falsely represent both sides of the civil war that has broken out there. One account that supposedly bought the blue checkmark falsely declared the death of Lieutenant General Mohamed Hamdan, leader of the rebels’ Rapid Relief Force. Over 1.7 million people saw the tweet.

Ella Irwin, Twitter’s new head of trust and safety, did not respond to a request for comment on the change and its consequences.

Twitter has always been a source of misinformation, and worse, but our previous policy tried to let readers know the source of their content and limit the worst cases. The debut of his verified account on Twitter in 2009 is usually associated with Tony La Russa. Tony La Russa is a major league baseball manager who sued Twitter for trademark infringement and other allegations after he was impersonated on the platform.

Over time, verified accounts with blue checkmarks directed users to official sources and real people. Classifying the news organization as state media indicated that the account reflected a particular point of view.

Shortly after Musk took office in November, impersonation became an issue and he offered to sell Checkmark to anyone who paid a monthly fee. He turned back after companies like Eli Lilly and PepsiCo worked on seemingly verified spoofed accounts promising free insulin and praising Coca-Cola’s dominance.

By last week, Twitter began removing blue check marks from businesses, government agencies, media outlets, etc. that did not agree to pay. Twitter didn’t reveal numbers, but it looks like many people chose not to sign up.

Some welcomed the change.

Margarita Simoyan, editor-in-chief of the Russian state television network RT, which has been accused of spreading hoaxes and hate speech aimed at Ukraine, tweeted that “searches can now even find me” . She approved the tweet, saying, “Brother Elon @elonmusk, with all my heart.”

Twitter’s algorithm previously excluded accounts labeled as government officials and media from being recommended, resulting in lower engagement. According to Reset, 124 accounts belonging to Russian state media saw an average 33% increase in views and impressions after the changes were implemented in late March.

Among them is Dmitry A. Medvedev, the former president of Russia and deputy chairman of the country’s security council, who posted a distorted photo of President Biden on Tuesday, calling him “fearless” in English. It contains such a description.

When an account claimed earlier this month that Twitter was amplifying Russian genocidal propaganda against Ukraine, Mr. Musk answered Negatively: “All news is propaganda to some degree. Let people decide for themselves.” (The account he was replying to has since been suspended.)

Researchers say the sudden change in how checkmarks are obtained could at least cause confusion. It can also undermine trust in communication tools during crises such as natural disasters.

The Los Angeles Police Department’s main account has a gray checkmark that Twitter created for “legacy accounts,” but not all of the various stations do. For example, departments in Hollywood. In addition to offering blue check marks for $8 per month, Twitter is asking organizations to pay $1,000 to receive gold marks across multiple accounts. At least for a while it was extended to a scammer called @DisneyJuniorUk.

“This will be a mess for emergency services,” tweeted Marc Andre Argentino, a research fellow at the London-based International Center for Radiation Studies.

Argentino tracked an account impersonating the mayor of Chicago replying to an account impersonating the city’s transportation department. In another case, an actual government-run account in New York City had an altercation with a fraudster.

“Yeah, this is funny. Let’s all laugh,” Mr. Argentino wrote. “Now, let’s go back to mass casualty incidents in big cities, natural disasters, or crises/serious incidents where people turn to official sources when they need to, and think about the harm it can cause. .

On Friday, Kelly Carlin, daughter of comedian George Carlin, said: tweeted accusing Someone had impersonated the account she was running for her late father and used the same profile picture to claim it was her.

“It starts here,” she wrote.twitter is brokenThe impersonator account was still active on Wednesday and had nine followers.

Josh Boerman, co-host of the pop culture podcast “The Worst of All possible Worlds”, is the source of an account impersonating New York City Mayor Eric Adams that promises to create a transportation and parking department and cut police funding Did.

Boerman said he tried hard to leave obvious hints that he was an impersonator.his tweet thread It included an unrealistic scenario where all police guns were melted down and sold for scrap, with the proceeds going to the parks department. He started a ridiculously named organization, the New York City Swine Charity Society. He promoted the podcast to his relatively small Twitter following of 1,700 users.

“Everyone immediately realized it was a joke. That was my wish. I wasn’t trying to mislead anyone,” Boerman said. “The point is that this can be both a joke about the current state of the network and an opportunity to think about how media is disseminated and how we think about public figures.”

He said the removal of the blue certification badge caused “immediate and pure confusion,” but the novelty eventually wore off. His profile name is now “bosh” (not mayor). He said he used other sources to carefully confirm the announcement he saw on Twitter.

“The problem comes when you have an account with hundreds of thousands of followers and you position yourself as authentic,” Boerman said. “Twitter’s ‘if they pay for verification, they must be legal’ approach is so ridiculous it can’t even be put into words.”

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