The problem with the latest social media trend of paid verification is being highlighted by an unlikely source: actor and comedian Will Ferrell.
Or, really, an account pretending to be Will Ferrell.
On Feb. 18, BBC News’ Tyne & Wear section published an article titled “QPR fan and actor Will Ferrell apologises for mocking Sunderland fans.” The piece’s headline came from a tweet posted by the Twitter account @OfficialWilllF with the display name “Will Ferrell.” The Twitter avatar also features a photo of Ferrell.
The article included an embed of a tweet supposedly showing the actor having apologized to the Sunderland football fans after his favored soccer team, the Queens Park Rangers, lost a match.
Only, there was one problem: The entire premise of the article was based on a tweet from a fake Will Ferrell account on Twitter.
Tweet may have been deleted
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“Haway man, sorry @SunderlandAFC,” reads the tweet from the fake Ferrell account.
The user included a screenshot of an earlier article referencing a video showing the real Will Ferrell showing support for his team from the game.
“In a BBC News Online article, we incorrectly stated QPR fan and actor Will Ferrell apologised for mocking Sunderland fans,” the BBC said in a statement. “A quote was taken from a verified Twitter account, but it was not made by the actor. We have removed the article in its entirety since it was based wholly on the apology.”
BBC did remove the piece, however, Mashable has found an archived version of the article at the Internet Archive.
Credit: Mashable Screenshot / Internet Archive
While the @OfficialWilllF account does mention that it’s a “parody” in its Twitter bio, it also has a blue verified checkmark. For many years, these checkmarks used to confirm that an account is actually who it claims — a process controlled by humans working at Twitter itself.
However, ever since Elon Musk took over the company and rolled out Twitter Blue subscriptions, practically anyone can purchase a blue checkmark badge for their profile after signing up for an $8 per month subscription. There is no actual ID verification required to prove that a user is who they claim to be.
So this ultimately leads to a situation where an account with a display name of “Will Ferrell,” with the word “official” in its Twitter handle, gets confused for the real Will Ferrell – all because the account now has a blue verified badge. A quick click of the badge confirms that this user did purchase that blue checkmark.
Credit: Mashable Screenshot
Twitter delayed the original implementation of Twitter Blue in November after users started signing up for the paid subscription service just to get a verified checkmark on fake accounts pretending to be brands, corporate CEOs, and celebrities. These issues played a role in the company losing around half of its biggest advertisers.
Obviously, though, even after the relaunch of the service, the problem still persists.
While the author of the BBC article should have double-checked to make sure that the account really belonged to the actor, this very scenario puts a spotlight on the real issue at hand. If the BBC got confused by a Twitter Blue user pretending to be someone they are not, imagine how confusing this must be for the average Twitter user who has already become accustomed to the idea that a verification badge means that a certain user is legit.
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