A drunk pope? Ted Cruz the cannibal? Twitter parodies exploit new blue tick

The service now allows users to pay $8 to appear ‘verified’. Celebrity impersonators are having a field day

George W Bush “misses killing Iraqis”, and Tony Blair agrees. OJ Simpson says he did it. And Elon Musk is offering “free nightly dinners” and family vacations to anyone whose name happens to be that of his ex, Grimes.

At least, that’s what these famous people appear to be saying on Twitter – and it must all be true, because they have a blue checkmark next to their names.

In reality, though, these parody accounts are simply taking advantage of Musk’s Twitter Blue service. For $8 a month, users are granted the blue check that once indicated an account genuinely belonged to a public figure. The result, for internet jokesters, is an account that purports to belong to a celebrity and looks very real. As the fake Bush puts it: $8 is “a small price to pay to make this app completely unusable”.

And it means we can watch as Pope Francis drunk-tweets about partying in France and LeBron James demands a trade, while Nintendo fires off a picture of Mario giving us all the middle finger. In an unexpected benefit of Musk’s takeover, even very dead people are finally able to access Twitter, with Martin Luther replying to the fake pope’s offer for $8 indulgences: “I’ve got 95 theses but … this shit ain’t it chief,” the 16th-century theologian posted, in tweets screen-shotted by the user @JoshuaPHill.

Following sports transactions and news could become a total mess with the new verification system

Already fake LeBron and Aroldis Chapman tweets going around pic.twitter.com/vQgMqws1W0

— Joon Lee (@joonlee) November 9, 2022

We’ve also gotten far more information than we ever wanted about the sex lives of politicians including Ted Cruz, who enjoys feasting on human flesh. Rudy Giuliani has offered his enlightened musings one after another, including reflecting on the time George Soros pushed him and he was “stuck on my back like a turtle for several minutes”. Among other comments, many unprintable, the former mayor challenged Alan Dershowitz to a brawl, offered intimate accounts of his bowel movements (“I’d like to announce I shidded”), and demanded his followers “talk to me like a man with a mortgage”. (Sometimes it’s tough to tell the difference between real and fake accounts.)

Musk, who recently banned the comedian Kathy Griffin from Twitter for impersonating him, doesn’t seem too bothered by the latest round of impostors. The platform’s new owner replied to a complaint about Mario and a very graphic depiction of Joe Biden with a pair of crying-laughing emojis.

Still, Twitter has suspended many of the accounts in question. It has also barred new accounts from signing up for the $8 checkmark service, though it hasn’t given a reason for doing so. The site’s rules require anyone engaging in parody – which it acknowledges “can enrich conversations when the account’s identity does not deceive others” – must indicate in their account name and bio that they are not affiliated with the real person.

Indeed, though this is all pretty funny, it also points to the risks involved in the new Blue scheme by further blurring the lines between imagination and reality. A parody account for the drugmaker Eli Lilly, for instance, tweeted: “We are excited to announce insulin is free now.” If a similar post, perhaps worded slightly more seriously, were taken out of context, it could lead to real harm. “This is going to be a nightmare that’ll be very funny before it’s scary,” wrote NBC’s Ben Collins – if it even is him.

A fake account is impersonating the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly and Company: "We are excited to announce insulin is free now." pic.twitter.com/OldmyzIqIp

— philip lewis (@Phil_Lewis_) November 10, 2022

Some are taking action to protect themselves. According to someone claiming to be the former New York Times reporter Ben Smith, NPR is telling staff not to quit Twitter for fear that someone else could take over their handle and impersonate them.

If you’re not sure whether an account is verified because it belongs to a noteworthy figure or because its owner has paid $8 a month, you can open the profile and click on the checkmark itself – which could be useful if Twitter becomes the “free-for-all hellscape” Musk has worked so tirelessly to avoid.


Matthew Cantor in Los Angeles

The GuardianTramp

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