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Senator attacks Elon Musk after letting journalist impersonate him on Twitter

Tesla chief executive Elon Musk. (Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
November 14, 2022

Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) sent a warning message to Elon Musk after the Washington Post impersonated him on Twitter. Markey gave permission for the Washington Post to attempt to impersonate him on the social media platform and then confronted Musk about the fake account when they succeeded, telling the new Twitter owner to “fix” his companies “or Congress will.”

On Friday, Markey tweeted “A @washingtonpost reporter was able to create a verified account impersonating me—I’m asking for answers from @elonmusk who is putting profits over people and his debt over stopping disinformation. Twitter must explain how this happened and how to prevent it from happening again.”

Along with his tweet, Markey included a copy of a letter he sent to Musk requesting answers on how Twitter verifies accounts now that Musk is in charge of the platform and if the platform failed to follow its procedures for account verification.

Markey’s initial tweet and letter about Twitter verification came after Musk took over the platform and instituted a new program, called “Twitter Blue,” that allows users to obtain an account verification checkmark for an $8 monthly subscription.

Twitter has, in the past, opened and closed verification periods. Previously, those seeking verification had to prove their identity and demonstrate that they are notable public figures and it was up to Twitter to determine if those individuals warranted verification. According to Buzzfeed, Twitter had also removed the verification marks of some controversial public figures over unspecified Twitter policy violations.

The Washington Post reported it had obtained Markey’s permission before impersonating his account. The publication was able to create a verified account closely resembling Markey’s by simply subscribing to Twitter Blue.

Musk replied to Markey’s initial Tweet and letter complaining about the fake account by saying “perhaps” the fake account’s verification happened “because your real accounts sounds like a parody.”

Markey responded by tweeting, “One of your companies is under an FTC consent decree. Auto safety watchdog NHTSA is investigating another for killing people. And you’re spending your time picking fights online. Fix your companies. Or Congress will.”

Twitter has been operating under an FTC consent decree since 2011. Twitter also agreed to a $150 million settlement with the FTC in May of this year over misrepresentations about the security and privacy of user data. Those FTC regulatory actions predate Musk’s purchase of the social media platform last month.

The NHTSA opened a preliminary investigation into Musk’s Tesla car company in August of 2021. The safety regulator said the investigation was “motivated by an accumulation of crashes in which Tesla vehicles, operating with Autopilot engaged, struck stationary in-road or roadside first responder vehicles tending to pre-existing collision scenes.” The NHTSA investigation expanded into a more in-depth engineering analysis in July of this year.

Since taking over Twitter, Musk has talked about changing the platform’s verification process to a subscription-based model and revamping advertising on the platform to make ads more relevant to users.

After rolling out Twitter Blue, numerous users have created fake accounts with verification marks, using them to impersonate public figures and companies. Twitter paused this new user verification system over the weekend amid the slew of fake accounts.

On Saturday, Musk responded to a question about when Twitter Blue would return, saying, “Probably end of next week.”