The nine-word tweet was sent Thursday afternoon from an account using the name and logo of the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Co., and it immediately attracted a giant response: “We are excited to announce insulin is free now.”
The tweet carried a blue “verified” check mark, a badge that Twitter had used for years to signal an account’s authenticity — and that Twitter’s new billionaire owner, Elon Musk, had, while declaring “power to the people!” suddenly opened to anyone, regardless of their identity, as long as they paid $8.
But the tweet was a fake — one of what became a fast-multiplying horde of impersonated businesses, political leaders, government agencies and celebrities. By the time Twitter had removed the tweet, more than six hours later, the account had inspired other fake Eli Lilly copycats and been viewed millions of times.
Inside the real Eli Lilly, the fake sparked a panic, according to two people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly. Company officials scrambled to contact Twitter representatives and demanded they kill the viral spoof, worried it could undermine their brand’s reputation or push false claims about people’s medicine. Twitter, its staffing cut in half, didn’t react for hours.
The aftermath of that $8 spoof offers a potentially costly lesson for Musk, who has long treated Twitter as a playground for bawdy jokes and trolls but now must find a way to operate as a business following his $44 billion takeover.
By Friday morning, Eli Lilly executives had ordered a halt to all Twitter ad campaigns — a potentially serious blow, given that the $330 billion company controls the kind of massive advertising budget that Musk says the company needs to avoid bankruptcy. They also paused their Twitter publishing plan for all corporate accounts around the world.
“For $8, they’re potentially losing out on millions of dollars in ad revenue,” said Amy O’Connor, a former senior communications official at Eli Lilly who now works at a trade association. “What’s the benefit to a company … of staying on Twitter? It’s not worth the risk when patient trust and health are on the line.” [Continue reading…]