Twitter owner and CEO Elon Musk yesterday announced a strict ban on unlabeled parody accounts, a step he’s taking after numerous Twitter users impersonated Musk. “Going forward, any Twitter handles engaging in impersonation without clearly specifying ‘parody’ will be permanently suspended,” Musk wrote in a tweet thread.
Musk’s announcement came as a number of high-profile Twitter users changed their display name and profile picture to match Musk’s. Comedian Sarah Silverman posted a screenshot indicating that her account was temporarily locked for violating Twitter rules after she tweeted using Musk’s name and profile picture. Silverman’s tweet impersonating Musk said, “I am a freedom of speech absolutist and I eat doody for breakfast every day.”
Comedian Kathy Griffin’s account was suspended under similar circumstances. As Silverman noted, these suspensions happened about a week after Musk wrote in a tweet that “comedy is now legal on Twitter.”
Because Musk said the rule on unlabeled parody applies to “any Twitter handles,” it appears that unverified accounts would also have to follow it. Banning all unlabeled parodies would perhaps be stricter than Twitter’s current rule that says, “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.”
But even the existing rule, which was in place before Musk proposed buying Twitter, says parody accounts “should clearly indicate that the user is not affiliated with the subject of the account.” While Musk’s statement may not differ much from the current rule, it suggests that Twitter will take a harder line against unlabeled parody than it did previously.
Some accounts that were clearly marked as parodies of Elon Musk were also suspended, according to Chad Loder, who researches online extremism. That includes one account with over 2.3 million followers, which was tweeting as a Musk parody and making posts about Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell before being suspended.
Musk says rule targets “malecious deception”
Verified people who change their display name, even without impersonating someone, would also face a “temporary loss” of their blue checkmark, Musk wrote. “Previously, we issued a warning before suspension, but now that we are rolling out widespread verification, there will be no warning,” Musk wrote yesterday. “This will be clearly identified as a condition for signing up to Twitter Blue. Any name change at all will cause temporary loss of verified checkmark.”
As previously reported, the Musk-led Twitter plans to raise the price of its Twitter Blue subscription from $5 to $8 a month and make account verification contingent on subscribing. The Twitter Blue changes are reportedly being delayed until after Tuesday’s US midterm elections but could be implemented later this week.
Musk also wrote yesterday that it’s okay “to use a pseudonym. The high-level principle is just that verified users can’t engage in malicious deception.”
On the Griffin suspension, Musk wrote that “she was suspended for impersonating a comedian” and that “if she really wants her account back, she can have it.” Musk did not otherwise refer directly to his impersonators when announcing the parody rule, but he wrote, “My commitment to free speech extends even to not banning the account following my plane, even though that is a direct personal safety risk.” That’s a reference to the Elonjet account, whose creator said Musk offered him $5,000 to disable the account in 2021.
A few months before the Twitter acquisition, Musk said that “permanent should be extremely rare and really reserved for accounts that are bots or spam.” He also said at the time that he would restore former President Donald Trump’s account.