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Musk threatens to upload fake Twitter accounts

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BOSTON (AP) — Elon Musk tweeted Sunday that Twitter will permanently suspend any account on the social media platform that impersonates another.

The platform’s new owner issued the warning after some celebrities changed their Twitter display names instead of account names and tweeted as “Elon Musk” in response to the billionaire’s decision to offer verified accounts to anyone for $8 a month if he fired a large chunk of the workforce at the same time.

“Going forward, any Twitter handles impersonating another person without clearly specifying ‘spoof’ will be permanently suspended,” Musk wrote. While Twitter used to issue warnings before suspensions, now that it’s rolling out an “extensive review, there will be no warning.”

In fact, “any name change” will result in the temporary loss of the verified tick, the world’s richest man said.

Comedian Kathy Griffin’s account was suspended on Sunday after she changed her screen name to Musk. She told a Bloomberg reporter that she also used his profile picture.

“I guess not all content moderators were fired? Lol,” Griffin joked afterward on Mastodon, the alternative social media platform where she created an account last week.

Actor Valerie Bertinelli similarly adopted the screen name Musk — posting a series of tweets in support of Democratic candidates on Saturday before reverting to her real name. “Oki-daki. I had fun and I think I proved my point,” she tweeted afterward.

Before the trick, Bertinelli noted the original purpose of the blue check mark. It was provided for free to people whose identity was verified by Twitter staff; and a large share of addressees are journalists. “It just meant that your identity was verified. It would be more difficult for fraudsters to impersonate you,” Bertinelli noted.

“It is no longer valid. Good luck out there!” she added.

The $8 verified accounts are Musk’s way of democratizing the service, he claims. On Saturday, a Twitter update for iOS devices posted in Apple’s app store said users who “sign up now” for the new “Twitter Blue with verification” can get a blue checkmark next to their names, “just like celebrities, companies and the politicians you already follow.”

The service will reportedly be available initially in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK. However, it was unavailable on Sunday and there was no indication when it would start working. Twitter’s Esther Crawford told the Associated Press that it’s “coming soon, but not yet launched.”

Twitter did not respond Sunday to an email seeking comment on the issue with verified accounts and Griffin’s suspension.

Musk later tweeted: “Twitter is set to become by far the most accurate source of information about the world. This is our mission.”

If the company stripped current verified users of the blue checks — which it hasn’t done yet — it could exacerbate misinformation on the platform during Tuesday’s midterm elections.

Like Griffin, some Twitter users have already begun moving away from the platform — Counter Social is another popular alternative — after the layoffs that began Friday reportedly affected about half of Twitter’s 7,500 employees. They fear that the disruption of moderation and verification could create gratuitous disinformation about what is the Internet’s primary channel for reliable communication with government agencies and other institutions.

Many companies have suspended advertising on the platform out of concern that it could become more unruly under Musk.

Yoel Roth, Twitter’s head of security and integrity, tried to allay those concerns in a tweet on Friday. He said the company’s content moderation staff were the least affected by the job cuts.

Musk tweeted late Friday that there was no choice but to cut jobs “when the company is losing over $4 million a day.” He did not provide details of the daily losses on Twitter and said that the employees who lost their jobs had been offered three months’ salary as severance pay.

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