Elon Musk has said that any Twitter handles engaging in impersonation without clearly specifying “parody” will be “permanently suspended”, issuing the warning after some celebrities changed their display names and tweeted as “Elon Musk”
The new Twitter CEO tweeted on Sunday night: “Previously, we issued a warning before suspension, but now that we are rolling out widespread verification, there will be no warning.”
“Any name change at all” would result in the temporary loss of a verified checkmark, Musk said.
On Sunday evening, several accounts that had changed their name to Elon Musk or approximations of Elon Musk appeared to be suspended or placed behind a warning sign, including those of US comedian Kathy Griffin and Australian satirical website the Chaser.
“I guess not ALL the content moderators were let go? Lol,” Griffin joked afterward on Mastodonan alternative social media platform where she set up an account last week.
Actor Valerie Bertinelli had similarly appropriated Musk’s screen name posting a series of tweets in support of Democratic candidates on Saturday before switching back to her true name. “Okey-dokey. I’ve had fun and I think I made my point,” she tweeted afterwards.
The latest storm comes amid concerns about the potential for the abuse of Twitter’s planned rollout of verification checks for a monthly fee of $7.99, which is a feature of its paid-for Twitter Blue service.
Bertinelli noted the original purpose of the blue verification checkmark. It was granted free of charge to people whose identity Twitter had confirmed; with journalists accounting for a big portion of recipients. “It simply meant your identity was verified. Scammers would have a harder time impersonating you,” Bertinelli said. “That no longer applies. Good luck out there!”
Responding to a tweet about this problemMusk tweeted: “You represent the problem: journalists who think they are the only source of legitimate information. That’s the big lie.”
The New York Times reported Musk’s new blue tick proposal would be delayed until after the US midterm elections, amid concerns users could buy verification, pretend to be a political figure and then sow electoral confusion.
A Twitter employee, Esther Crawford, told the Associated Press the option was coming “soon but it hasn’t launched yet”.
Appearing to defend his sweeping bans on Sunday, Musk tweeted that he was still committed to free speech, and would continue to allow the account that flags his movements to remain online. Musk has previously said he opposed permanent bans on Twitter.
Meanwhile, engineering teams at Twitter are rolling out new features at breakneck speed, amid the chaos and distress caused by reports of the summary dismissal of half of Twitter’s 7,500-strong workforce.
There were reports on Sunday night that dozens who had been laid off had been asked to return as they were either laid off by mistake or the company had since realised their work was vital to build the new features Musk is seeking.
He acquired Twitter at the end of last month for $44bn, in a deal backed by billions of his own money. The entrepreneur has now set up a war room in the company’s headquarters in San Francisco, where he and a small team of advisers are scrambling to save costs and push out new products.
On the topic of previously banned accounts, Musk last week said they will not be allowed back onto Twitter until the social media platform has “a clear process for doing so”.
Creating such a process would take at least a few more weeks, Musk had tweeted, giving more clarity about the potential return of Twitter’s most famous banned user, former US president Donald Trump. The new timeline implies Trump will not return in time for the midterm elections on 8 November.