After billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk took over Twitter in late October 2022, he laid off a big chunk of the workforce there, and promised a number of major changes to the social media platform. One change came about as result of a number of high-profile users changing their Twitter display names (though not their handles) to "Elon Musk," to poke fun at Musk. Comedian Kathy Griffin was one such user:
Some on Twitter, conservative users in particular, pointed out that this was not unusual practice, and Twitter's rule against impersonating other users existed before Musk took over:
Everyone understand that the terms of service on Twitter haven't changed, right?
The only difference is no one is tipping the scales for leftists anymore. The algorithm flagging accounts is still the same.
— Bob Weave (@lowkeyrbe) November 7, 2022
Impersonating has been against the Twitter TOS from day one, not sure what the issue is here
— Jack Posobiec ???????? (@JackPosobiec) November 7, 2022
This is correct, though Musk himself pointed out a key difference in how Twitter would handle impersonators going forward, saying that previously the platform "issued a warning before suspension, but now that we are rolling out widespread verification, there will be no warning."
Going forward, any Twitter handles engaging in impersonation without clearly specifying "parody" will be permanently suspended
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 6, 2022
Previously, we issued a warning before suspension, but now that we are rolling out widespread verification, there will be no warning.
This will be clearly identified as a condition for signing up to Twitter Blue.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 6, 2022
Musk was referring to his key change in which he announced he would charge $8 per month to anyone who wanted to verify their account with the blue tick mark under the Blue subscription service.
It is true that impersonating someone else on the platform is a violation of Twitter's Terms of Service. According to the terms: "You may not impersonate individuals, groups, or organizations to mislead, confuse, or deceive others, nor use a fake identity in a manner that disrupts the experience of others on Twitter."
However, currently Twitter states there are three parts to the banning process, the first of which is a warning, followed by a temporary or permanent suspension. A first step to avoiding a suspension involves editing the profile content: "If your account is potentially confusing in terms of its affiliation, we may require you to edit the content on your profile. If you violate this policy again after your first warning, your account will be permanently suspended."
We looked at archived web pages of these rules from April 2022, before Musk's takeover, and they appear to be the same.
The new implementation of these new rules announced by musk is confusing for many users, particularly now that anyone can be verified by just paying for the subscription service. A number of people tweeted their concerns over this:
And to do this, I'll let anyone to gives me money appear to be a legitimate source of news, rather than just ensuring all legitimate sources of news are confirmed to be who they say they are https://t.co/otFWaWJTxt
— ???????????????? ???????????????????????????????? (@kylegrantham) November 7, 2022
The blue checkmark simply meant your identity was verified.
Scammers would have a harder time impersonating you.
That no longer applies. Good luck out there!
— valerie bertinelli (@Wolfiesmom) November 5, 2022
Some also feared that the loss of verified Twitter accounts could also exacerbate disinformation during the midterm elections on Nov. 8, 2022. However, the New York Times reported that Twitter would not roll out the subscription service until Nov. 9, 2022, after the elections.
This new way of implementing of the rules was rolled out in a rather haphazard fashion as well. Despite Musk tweeting that accounts specifying they were parodies would not fall under this suspension, at least one account labeled "Elon Musk (parody)" remained suspended until the name was changed.
While it is correct that Twitter considered impersonations as a violation of their Terms of Service even before Musk's announcement, this rule's implementation has changed, thus generating a lot of confusion on the platform.
Mac, Ryan, et al. "Twitter Is Said to Delay Changes to Check Mark Badges Until After Midterms." The New York Times, 6 Nov. 2022. NYTimes.com, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/11/06/technology/twitter-verification-check-marks.html. Accessed 7 Nov. 2022.
Milmo, Dan, and Alex Hern. "Twitter Bans Comedian Kathy Griffin for Impersonating Elon Musk." The Guardian, 7 Nov. 2022. The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2022/nov/07/twitter-will-ban-permanently-suspend-impersonator-accounts-elon-musk-says-as-users-take-his-name. Accessed 7 Nov. 2022.
"Misleading and Deceptive Identities Policy." Twitter. https://help.twitter.com/en/rules-and-policies/twitter-impersonation-and-deceptive-identities-policy. Accessed 7 Nov. 2022.
"Musk Threatens to Boot Twitter Account Impersonators." AP NEWS, 7 Nov. 2022, https://apnews.com/article/elon-musk-twitter-impersonators-ban-6c5cc834a38a29a6fb38e4a85441a3a1. Accessed 7 Nov. 2022.