But the tweet was a fake – one of what has become a rapidly multiplying horde of businesses, political leaders, government agencies and celebrities impersonating people. By the time Twitter deleted the tweet, more than six hours later, the account had inspired other fake Eli Lilly impersonators and viewed millions of times.
Inside the real Eli Lilly, the fake sparked panic, according to two people familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. Company officials rushed to contact Twitter representatives and demanded they kill off the viral parody, fearing it could damage their brand reputation or misrepresent people’s medicine. Twitter, its workforce reduced by half, did not react for hours.
The fallout from this $8 travesty offers a potentially costly lesson for Musk, who has long treated Twitter as a playground for jokes and bawdy trolls but now must find a way to operate as a business after his takeover of $44 billion.
As of Friday morning, Eli Lilly executives had ordered a halt to all ad campaigns on Twitter — a potentially serious blow, given that the $330 billion company controls the kind of massive advertising budget Musk says the company is using. needs to avoid bankruptcy. They have also suspended their Twitter posting plan for all corporate accounts worldwide.
“For $8, they potentially lose millions of dollars in ad revenue,” said Amy O’Connor, a former communications manager at Eli Lilly, who now works in a trade association. “What is the advantage for a company… of staying on Twitter? It’s not worth the risk when patient confidence and health are at stake.”
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Eli Lilly, who declined to answer questions about the episode or how much money he spent advertising with Twitter, is one of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical manufacturers, known for the anti-depression drug Prozac and treatments Diabetes Trulicity and Humalog.
He maintains a strong presence on Twitter. In addition to his main business account, @LillyPadit manages independent accounts dedicated to diabetic treatments, European health policy, clinical tests, rheumatology and dissemination of health information in Spanish, Italian and French. It spends more than $100 million a year on TV commercials and digital ad campaigns in the United States, according to MediaRadar, a marketing data company.
When Twitter failed to respond quickly to its pleas about the fake account, Eli Lilly took to its official account late Thursday afternoon to apologize to its 130,000 followers for the “misleading” fake. With the fake account still active five hours later, a Twitter ad sales representative in New York publicly pleaded with Musk to have the fake account removed.
Musk did not respond, but the account was suspended late Thursday night. The next morning, Musk tweeted that the launch of Twitter’s new $8 verification scheme was “going well overall”.
Musk did not respond to requests for comment for this article. Twitter’s communications team also did not respond; many of its employees were laid off in Musk’s massive layoff on Nov. 4.
In a brief statement on Friday, Eli Lilly said he was “working to correct this situation.”
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Musk said the sweeping change to Twitter’s “verified” system, first unveiled in 2009, would shake up the establishment journalists he regularly criticizes by shattering their “information oligopoly.”
Twitter doesn’t verify the identity of anyone who pays $8 for the checkmark, which looks identical to the current “verified” badge. Musk said spammers and impersonators would be deterred by the fact that their $8 would not be refunded if their accounts were suspended.
The sudden change, however, decimated some of the last lingering elements of trust between the platform’s advertisers, said Jenna Golden, who led Twitter’s political ads and advocacy sales team until 2017. and now runs Golden Strategies, a DC consulting firm.
Twitter, she said, has never been a “must buy” for advertisers. While it’s a popular way to reach influential political figures and news junkies, it’s never had the scale and performance of digital behemoths like Google and Facebook.
Now, with its tattered verification system, “it’s very easy for advertisers to say, ‘You know what, I don’t need to be here anymore’ and walk away,” Golden said. “People are not just providing inaccurate information, but damaging information, with the ability to appear legitimate. It’s just not a stable place for a brand to invest.
The problem is compounded, Golden said, by Musk himself, who pushed tumultuous changes to the company that stunned paying customers, confused industry watchers and led power users on Twitter to head to the exits.
“People see the leader of this company who is erratic and unpredictable, who makes very instinctive decisions and reverses them pretty quickly,” she said. “He pretends he wants to build a successful business and then does everything he can to turn off the advertisers who are his main source of income. … I just don’t see a world where advertisers will be happy to come back and willing to invest money in his experience.
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As fake accounts mushroomed on the site on Thursday, Musk responded to a sexually explicit ad Tweeter of a fake President Biden with two laughing crying emoji and tweeted that Twitter users had share “some epically funny tweets.”
By Friday morning, however, Twitter had suspended its blue vetting program, known as Twitter Blue, due to “impersonation issues” and began attaching “official” labels to Eli Lilly and d other large corporate accounts.
On Friday night, Musk tweeted Twitter is reportedly starting to add a “parody” tag to fake blue checking accounts. He also defended Eli Lilly, Tweeter to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — who had used the fake to draw attention to the high prices of life-saving drug insulin — that the “price issue is complex.”
Few of the nation’s most prominent corporations and political figures have escaped viral impersonations on Twitter in recent days: former presidents (Donald Trump, George W. Bush) and giant corporations (the entrepreneur of the defense Lockheed MartinMusk’s carmaker Tesla) were all widely retweeted, with fake but verified badges attached.
This change has led some major advertisers to pull out as well. Omnicom Media Group, an advertising company that represents giants such as Apple and McDonald’s, recommended customers suspend all activity on Twitter, saying in a memo first reported by The Verge that “the security risk of our customers’ brand has risen sharply to a level most would find unacceptable.
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For Eli Lilly, the fake $8 account was a disastrous and high-profile surprise. The Indianapolis-based conglomerate employs more than 37,000 people in 18 countries and generates $28 billion in revenue annually.
Sanders and many others have used the parody to highlight insulin costs, a common point of criticism of the company. When Eli Lilly’s share price fell 4% on Friday – in line with a decline in other health care stocks – many Twitter users credited the fake account: The “tweet just cost billions to Eli Lilly,” said a Tweeter with over 380,000 likes. “The most important $8 in modern human history,” said another one.
Some Twitter users celebrated the accounts as modern satires or expressed excitement that Musk’s decision could backfire, exposing Twitter to legal threats. Other bogus but verified parodies of Eli Lilly proliferated, gaining their own large following before also being suspended: One tweeted, “Humalog is now $400. We can do it whenever we want and you can’t do anything about it.
For Eli Lilly, however, the change offered not only a reputational threat, but the risk that other counterfeits could threaten people’s health. The company’s accounts routinely answer Twitter users’ medical questions and work to correct misinformation about side effects, health issues and long-term care.
Twitter’s change, O’Connor said, has rattled not only Eli Lilly, but many other companies are now concerned about the risk of participating on a platform where an account’s legitimacy is no longer guaranteed.
“It’s not just about Twitter, it’s about patient health,” O’Connor said. What if a public health group was “spoofed and shared information that made people’s diabetes worse?” Where does it stop? I feel like this is literally just the beginning and it’s only going to get worse.
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