X still has a problem with verified bots — this time they came for TechCrunch writers

Date:

As I was scrolling through X (formerly Twitter) this week, I noticed I had reposted several articles from TechCrunch. But, wait, no, I hadn’t.

But someone else using my name did. I clicked on the profile, and there was another Rebecca Belan, using the same default and header photos as my real profile: me on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt 2022 and side-eyed Chloe, respectively. The bio read, “@Techcrunch Senior Reporter | Journalist,” and the location was set to NY, where I currently live. The account was created in May 2024.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about learning that someone – who? A bot?! – had created a fake account of mine, was that they had apparently been paid to do so, as evidenced by the little blue checkmark next to my name.

When X was still Twitter, the blue checkmark let other users know that the profile was verified as a notable person. But since Elon Musk’s hostile takeover, that checkmark now means a user has paid at least $8 a month for a premium subscription that gives them longer posts, fewer ads, better algorithmic consideration, and access to Grok. And while X changed its ways in April and gave some users verification badges back based on number of followers, the blue checkmark can also indicate that someone is a Musk fan. Don’t believe me? Check out all the enthusiastic replies to any of Musk’s posts.

Anyway, I’m neither a paid subscriber nor a fan.

I am not the only person who has been targeted by fake accounts. Some TechCrunch journalists have also been targeted by fake accounts on this platform. Some accounts, including my own fake account, have been suspended after being reported to X. But this only tells us that X is actively aware of this problem.

And the problem is that such impersonation attacks are much easier due to the degradation of X’s verification system, which doesn’t actually require any identity verification. Having a pay-to-play blue check system encourages bad guys and nation-states to abuse it.

In fact, X should have learned his lesson by now. When Musk launched Twitter Blue in November 2023, the feature was soon used to help bad actors pretend to be celebrities, corporations and government officials. One account impersonated pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly and posted a fake announcement that insulin was now free. That tweet was viewed millions of times before it was removed and the company’s stock plummeted as a result.

Another account pretended to be basketball star LeBron James and posted that he was officially asking the Lakers team for a trade. Another introduced itself as Connor McDavid and announced that the hockey player’s contract had been bought out by the New York Islanders.

The accounts pretending to be TechCrunch journalists have been benign so far. They have only reposted content that any of us would honestly repost. This suggests that rather than specifically malicious actors, these accounts were likely created by bots.

We’ve been covering X’s verified user bot problem for some time now. Ironically, Musk suggested that forcing users to pay for verification would actually eliminate bots on the platform, but apparently that’s not the case.

People who have been scammed can report it to X, which will require you to do a third-party verification that involves uploading photos of your government ID and selfie. I also asked colleagues, friends, and followers to report the scam to X on my behalf, which can speed up the process.

X did not provide any comment to TechCrunch on how many of its users might actually be bots, why this problem is still occurring, or what the platform is doing to resolve it.

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