Days after Elon Musk declared that “comedy is now legal on Twitter,” the platform banned several comedians for parody tweets in which they impersonated its new owner.
Among the suspended accounts were comic Kathy Griffin and internet personality Ethan Klein, who both had verified “blue check” accounts.
“Yes, I could have ended world hunger instead of buying Twitter,” wrote Klein to his 2.3 million followers, after changing his username to “Elon Musk” and his profile picture to a depiction of the billionaire. “But people don’t understand the importance of having a free and open forum. If somebody dies of starvation in Sudan, it won’t affect the world. But being able to say the N-word on Twitter is a right we all deserve.” Shortly after the tweet was posted, Klein’s account was suspended.
Musk, who is also CEO of Tesla, addressed the wave of impersonations late Sunday night. “Going forward, any Twitter handles engaging in impersonation without clearly specifying ‘parody’ will be permanently suspended,” he wrote. “Previously, we issued a warning before suspension, but now that we are rolling out widespread verification, there will be no warning.”
The suspensions came just days before Musk was set to make the blue “verified” checkmark —which previously made it clear that an account was genuine—available to anybody who pays a subscription fee of $8 per month. Musk, who has described himself as a “free speech absolutist,” said account holders that do not pay for the privilege of verification will appear below paid accounts in search results and replies.
The permanent suspensions of Griffin and Klein appear to go against Musk’s previous statements. In May, Musk stated his belief that Twitter should not have permanent suspensions, saying it was a “mistake” for the platform to permanently ban former President Donald Trump, calling it a “morally bad decision.”
“Musk went on for months about how there should never be permanent suspension,” wrote Mike Masnick, the founder of tech news site TechDirt, in response to the bans. “And here we are one week in and he’s perma-banning people for making jokes at his expense.”
Under Twitter’s previous ownership, the verification feature was handed out only to public figures to signify that an account really belonged to who it claimed to be. Musk has said that rolling out “payment verification” will help Twitter in its battle against bots, or fake accounts. But by making verification available to all who are prepared to pay, Musk is also eroding the feature’s power as an indicator of reliability, many experts have warned.
Impersonation has long been banned on Twitter, but for very different reasons. For years, a common tactic of spammers has been to hack the passwords of “verified” accounts and change their usernames to businesses or celebrities, and then share tweets encouraging them to send cryptocurrencies to an address in return for a reward. And while comedy accounts impersonating Musk were quickly suspended on Monday, at least one malicious impersonation seeking to scam users out of their money was flying below the radar. The verified account of Joe Memmel, a musician with more than 6,000 followers, changed its username to “Tesla Live” and announced (falsely) that Musk was running a “charity raffle” of more than $100 million, inviting users to click on a dangerous link to “get their winnings right now.”
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