U.S. Sen. Ed Markey has taken exception to changes made by billionaire Elon Musk to the social media platform Twitter, which the lawmaker says are a danger to public health and may require congressional intervention.
“Someone could impersonate the CDC for eight dollars, pay for it, not be authenticated and then on that site, say, ‘CDC says vaccinations are not good for you,’ ” Massachusetts’ junior senator said. “That’s a public health and safety problem.”
Markey was speaking with host Janet Wu and Ed Harding on WCVB’s Sunday political show On the Record, when the senator was asked about his recent official and social media interactions with Musk.
According to the Malden native, who sits on the senate’s Subcommittee on Communication, Media, and Broadband, changes made to Twitter — and which follow the tech mogul’s purchase of the short-form communications site for $44 billion — pose the risk of spreading dangerous misinformation from seemingly trustworthy sources, and may need to be the subject of Congressional concern.
Markey’s worry centers around Musk’s decision to alter Twitter’s verification system. A verified checkmark, previously available only to vetted government, news, celebrity or corporate accounts, was for a brief time made available to anyone willing to pay Musk’s arrived at figure of $8.
Anyone could also, for a time, make a verified account that made them seem to be someone they are not, like a large company or a political figure.
Markey was himself so impersonated, with his consent, by a Washington Post reporter who made a Twitter account and paid the verification fee of $8 dollars. He was not pleased at the ease with which an official’s name could be used and wrote to Musk, demanding via the social media platform and an official congressional letter that Twitter’s new owner do something about it.
The billionaire has since halted any changes to the verification system and been clear that under his watch the social media company would make many mistakes before they figured things out.
A paid-for check, when clicked on as of Sunday, indicates it has been paid for, while a previously verified account indicates it bears the verification mark “because it’s notable in government, news, entertainment, or another designated category.”
That change didn’t come fast enough for pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, which saw its stock price plummet earlier this month after a parody — but seemingly verified — account using company imagery said the diabetes drug insulin would be offered to patients for free. The company was forced to say that insulin would not, in fact, be free.
“If they can impersonate Eli Lilly, the CDC, a senator from Massachusetts, then anyone could impersonate anyone they wanted to and then spew out misinformation into the public sphere,” Markey said. “So, I’ve asked Elon Musk to: one, tell me what went wrong, and two, what he’s going to do to fix it.”
Markey’s interview, taped Thursday but aired Sunday, came after the senator sent Musk a letter with a Nov. 25 deadline to respond to four written questions.
“(Musk) could respond to my tweets but failed to respond to my letter by yesterday’s deadline and answer basic questions about Twitter verification,” Markey said via Twitter on Saturday. “Congress must end the era of failed Big Tech self-regulation and pass laws that put user safety over the whims of billionaires.”