On Twitter, Who Needs a Check Mark When You Can Have a Rat?

On Twitter, if users change their avatar photo and display name — this is different from a user’s Twitter handle, the name that begins with an @ — it’s already fairly easy to trick other Twitter users into believing an account is the official account of a celebrity or organization. The comedian Jaboukie Young-White was notably suspended from Twitter in 2020 after impersonating CNN and tweeting a sex joke about Joseph R. Biden Jr., then a candidate for president.

In recent days, some Twitter users have begun impersonating Mr. Musk using this method. (This is not a new thing, but Mr. Musk’s new role at Twitter appears to have inspired more copycats apparently eager to push the boundaries of his free speech vision.) When asked by another Twitter user about his impersonators, Mr. Musk wrote it “already happens very frequently.” “If verified accounts violate terms of service, eg spam/scam/impersonation, they’ll be suspended, but Twitter will keep their money!” he added.

Mr. Cohen is staying on Twitter for now, but he’s watching the platform’s ecosystem closely.

Celebrities including Shonda Rhimes, Sara Bareilles and Toni Braxton have all announced they are leaving. “Hate speech under the ‘free speech’ is unacceptable; Therefore I am choosing to stay off Twitter as it is no longer a safe space for myself, my sons and other POC,” Ms. Braxton tweeted last Friday.

“I dont know Elon Musk and, tbh, I could care less who owns twitter,” LeBron James tweeted on Saturday, linking to a report about a spike in hate speech after Mr. Musk’s takeover of Twitter. “But I will say that if this is true, I hope he and his people take this very seriously because this is scary AF.” (On Monday, Yoel Roth, the head of safety and integrity on Twitter, acknowledged a recent “surge in hateful content.”)

“Large exodus happening on this platform,” the actor Josh Gad tweeted last Friday. “Not sure if I stay or not. Leaning toward staying, but if today is a sign of things to come, not sure what the point is. Freedom of speech is great. Hate speech intended to incite harm, (with no consequences) ain’t what I signed up for.” His most recent tweetposted on Friday, appeared to mock Elon Musk.

It remains to be seen if the much-discussed exodus from Twitter will actually come to pass. To find out, of course, you’ll have to check in with the rats — on Twitter.


It Happened Online is a column in which we explain very particular bits of news and amplified by social enabled media.

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