But the tweet was fake — one of a rapidly multiplying horde of impersonated corporations, political leaders, government agencies, and celebrities. When Twitter removed the tweet more than six hours later, the account was ecstatic other fake Eli Lilly knockoffs 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 scrambled to contact Twitter representatives, urging them to take down the viral spoof, fearing it could undermine their brand’s reputation or make false claims about folk medicine. Twitter, halved in terms of staff, did not respond for hours.
The aftermath of this $8 spoof offers a potentially costly lesson for Musk, who has long treated Twitter as a playground for crude jokes and trolls but must now find a way to operate as a company following its $44 billion acquisition .
As of Friday morning, Eli Lilly executives had ordered all Twitter ad campaigns halted — a potentially major blow considering the $330 billion company has the massive advertising budget Musk says the company needs to stay out of bankruptcy to avoid. They also paused their Twitter posting schedule to all corporate accounts around the world.
“For $8, they’re potentially losing millions of dollars in advertising revenue,” said Amy O’Connor, a former senior communications officer at Eli Lilly who now works at a trade association. “What’s the benefit to a business…of staying on Twitter?” It’s not worth the risk when patient confidence and health is at stake.”
Elon Musk’s first major Twitter product has been paused after fake accounts proliferated
Eli Lilly, who declined to respond to questions about the episode or ad spend on Twitter, is one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, known for the antidepressant drug Prozac and the diabetes treatments Trulicity and Humalog.
It maintains a robust Twitter presence. In addition to his main company account @LillyPadit operates standalone accounts to which it is dedicated diabetes treatment, European health policy, clinical trials, rheumatology and the dissemination of health information in Spanish, Italian and French. According to MediaRadar, a marketing data company, the company spends more than $100 million a year on television advertising and digital advertising campaigns in the United States.
When Twitter didn’t quickly respond to his requests for the fake account, Eli Lilly reached out to his official account late Thursday afternoon to reach out to his 130,000 followers for the “misleading” fake. When the fake account was still active five hours later, a Twitter ads sales rep in New York publicly pleaded with Musk to get the fake account removed.
Musk didn’t respond, but the account was suspended late Thursday night. Next morning, Musk tweeted that the launch of Twitter’s new $8 verification system “went well overall.”
Musk did not respond to requests for comment on this article. Twitter’s communications team also didn’t respond; Many of his employees were fired in the mass layoff Musk imposed on November 4.
In a brief statement Friday, Eli Lilly said it was working to “correct this situation.”
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Musk has said that sweeping changes to Twitter’s “verified” system, first unveiled in 2009, would shake up mainstream journalists, whom he routinely criticizes, by changing their “information oligopoly.”
Twitter does not verify the identity of anyone who pays $8 for the tick that looks identical to the current “verified” badge. Musk said spammers and impersonators would be deterred that their $8 would not be returned if their accounts were suspended.
But the sudden shift has decimated some of the last remnants of advertisers’ trust in the platform, said Jenna Golden, who led Twitter’s policy and advocacy ad sales team until 2017 and now heads Golden Strategies, a DC consulting firm.
Twitter, she said, has never been a “must have” for advertisers. While it’s a popular way to reach influential political figures and news junkies, it’s never had the scale and power of digital juggernauts like Google and Facebook.
Now, with its verification system in tatters, “it makes it really easy for advertisers to say, ‘You know what, I don’t need to be here anymore,’ and walk away,” Golden said. “People provide not only inaccurate information, but harmful information with the ability to appear legitimate. It’s just not a stable place for a brand to invest.”
Compounding the problem, Golden said, is Musk himself, who has fueled tumultuous changes at the company that have stunned paying customers, confused industry observers and caused Twitter’s power users to plot to exit.
“People see the leader of this company who is unpredictable and unpredictable, who makes very spontaneous decisions and reverses them fairly quickly,” she said. “He claims he wants to build a successful business and then does whatever it takes to shut down the advertisers who are his main source of income. … I just don’t see a world where advertisers come back excited and willing to commit dollars to his experiment.”
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As fake accounts proliferated on the site Thursday, Musk responded to a sexually explicit one tweet by a fake President Biden with two crying emojis and tweeted that Twitter users had divided “Some epically funny tweets.”
However, as of Friday morning, Twitter had halted its blue-checking program, known as Twitter Blue, due to “identity issues” and had begun putting “official” labels on Eli Lilly and other major corporate accounts.
Musk on Friday night tweeted Twitter would start adding a “spoof” tag to fake blue check accounts. He also defended Eli Lilly, tweet to Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) – who had used the forgery to draw attention to high prices for insulin, a life-saving drug – that the “price issue is complex”.
Few of the country’s most prominent corporations and politicians have escaped viral Twitter impersonations in recent days: former presidents (Donald Trump, George W. Bush) and giant corporations (the arms company). Lockheed MartinMusk’s automaker Tesla) were all widely retweeted and given fake but verified badges.
This shift has resulted in some major advertisers pulling out as well. Omnicom Media Group, an advertising firm that represents corporate giants like Apple and McDonald’s, recommended customers pause all Twitter activity, saying in a memo first published by The Verge that “the risk to our customers’ brand safety is severe to a maximum would find unacceptable.”
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For Eli Lilly, the $8 fake 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 annual sales.
sanders and many others used the parody to spotlight the cost of insulin, a common criticism of the company. As Eli Lilly’s share price fell 4 percent on Friday — in line with falls in other healthcare stocks — many Twitter users credited the fake account: The “tweet just cost Eli Lilly billions,” one said tweet with more than 380,000 likes. “The most consequential $8 in modern human history,” he said Another.
Some Twitter users hailed the accounts as modern-day satires or expressed excitement at the idea that Musk’s move could backfire and expose Twitter to legal threats. Other fake-but-verified Eli Lilly parodies have multiplied and gained their own wide audience before also being suspended: One tweeted, “Humalog is now $400. We can do that whenever we want and you can’t do anything about it.”
For healthcare companies like Eli Lilly, the change meant not only a reputational threat, but also the risk that other counterfeits could endanger people’s well-being. Eli Lilly’s Twitter accounts routinely answer medical questions and work to correct misinformation about side effects, health issues, and long-term care.
Twitter’s change, O’Connor said, has rocked not only Eli Lilly but many other companies, who are now worried about the risk of participating on a platform where an account’s legitimacy is no longer guaranteed.
“This isn’t just about Twitter, this is about patient health,” O’Connor said. What if a public health group “faked and shared information that was making people’s diabetes worse? where does it stop It feels like this is literally just the beginning and it’s only going to get worse.”