For two days last week, Senator Ed Markey — a long-time critic of social media companies — had a doppelgänger. On Twitter at least.
Both profiles featured a picture of the white-haired junior senator from Malden, a photo of him at rallies as the banner image, bios that touted his support for the Green New Deal or net neutrality, and a blue check mark next to his name, indicating that Twitter had “verified” the account.
But @SenMarkey and @realEdMarkey were different in one key way: @realEdMarkey was fake.
In the latest twist in the saga of billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter, a Washington Post reporter created, with Markey’s permission, a fake profile for the senator that the troubled social media site then verified under new rules introduced by Musk.
Markey slammed the new system and Musk’s management of the company in a letter on Friday, provoking a nasty battle of Tweets with Musk himself.
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. pic.twitter.com/R4r7p6mduP— Ed Markey (@SenMarkey) November 11, 2022
The blue check mark was an important safeguard for consumers, Markey wrote. “But your Twitter takeover, rapid and haphazard imposition of platform changes, removal of safeguards against disinformation, and firing of large numbers of Twitter employees have accelerated Twitter’s descent into the Wild West of social media.”
The blue-check system was intended to protect celebrities, companies, politicians, and journalists from impersonation and the public from scams and disinformation. Musk argued that the blue-check system was elitist and that the subscription service was a revenue opportunity for the company that has struggled financially since Musk’s takeover.
The rollout of the new process last Wednesday unleashed a deluge of fake accounts, from a verified Pope Francis account that interacted with a blue-checked Martin Luther account on Thursday to a verified fake account for pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly that tweeted that the company would make insulin free. The real company had no such plans, but its stock price took a dive on Friday.
By Friday, the new Twitter verification service was unavailable, the Associated Press reported.
Musk hit back at Markey over his criticisms on Twitter on Sunday morning. Responding to a tweet in which Markey asked how it was possible for the Post reporter to impersonate him, Musk responded, “Perhaps it is because your real account sounds like a parody?”
Less than an hour later, Markey tweeted back that Twitter is under a Federal Trade Commission consent decree and that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating automaker Tesla for safety issues.
“And you’re spending your time picking fights online,” Markey tweeted. “Fix your companies. Or Congress will.”
Markey has been both one of the chief critics of tech giants like Twitter on Capitol Hill and a savvy user of social media. He wielded Twitter and other social media sites very effectively to win over young voters and turn back then-Representative Joe Kennedy III’s primary challenge in 2020.
In 2021, Markey filed legislation to ban the use of “discriminatory” algorithms, and earlier this year the senator called for tougher oversight of privacy protections at Facebook.
In his Friday letter, Markey demanded that Twitter reinstate its old system for verification and asked for further information on how the decision was made to scrap it.
Elizabeth Warren, the other US senator from Massachusetts who is also a long-time social media critic, has repeatedly voiced her opposition to Musk’s ownership of the company and has sparred with the billionaire online as well.
“I got a real problem with [Musk],” Warren told host Stephen Colbert on “The Late Show” on Nov. 2.