For the 30 million Americans with diabetes, the news could have been good. “We are happy to announce that insulin is now free”, pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly triumphed on Friday on Twitter. In the country, the product can sometimes cost more than 1,000 dollars per month for the patients who use it. But the hopes raised by the tweet quickly fell: nothing was real. Despite his name, his photo and, above all, his certification, usually pledges of credibility, the Eli Lilly account, at the origin of the message to the thousands of likes, was a fake. And the real business is now paying for the farce. In this case, $16 billion lost in market capitalization.
At the roots of this fall in the stock market? The certification policy change made by Elon Musk on Twitter. Politicians, journalists, companies… Before the disrupted arrival of the boss of Tesla at the head of the network, this little blue badge was awarded to “notable” users… subject to verification of their identity. With the billionaire and his “Twitter Blue” offer, verification is skipped: all you have to do is pay to obtain the certification, $7.99 per month. The offer, the entrepreneur’s first big step as new boss, was put in place on November 9. And suspended three days later. A stinging outcry for Elon Musk, which further fuels criticism and attacks.
Pepsi praises the merits of Coca-Cola
The disaster was foreseeable. As reported by New York Times, the new Twitter Blue offer had to be set up by employees under pressure, in record time. And, with the moderation workforce diminished after the billionaire’s massive layoffs, fake accounts have proliferated unhindered. Still, in a market where digital rumors make and break fortunes, some companies have seen their cash flow shaken. Like Eli Lilly, US defense equipment maker Lockheed Martin lost an estimated $15 billion in market capitalization after a fake blue-checked account announced it intended to halt “arms sales to Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United States until further investigation is carried out into human rights violations”.
Other groups have suffered unflattering jokes. Like Nintendo: An Evil Double at the video game design company posted a photo of franchise star Mario in full gloved middle finger. A fake Pepsi account has started to praise the merits of its competitor Coca-Cola. And, in this digital catch-all, some activists have found what they are looking for. “Just because we’re killing the planet doesn’t mean we don’t miss it 😢”, ironically an account imitating that of the oil company British Petroleum. Of course, the personalities, like Donald Trump, Georges Bush or Tony Blair, did not escape the crush. Not enough to reassure advertisers, already well chilled by the arrival of Elon Musk at the helm.
What, on the other hand, annoy the political class. In a verbal contest, US Senator Edward Markey threaten the boss : “Fix your businesses. Or Congress will.” The warning comes after a journalist from the washington post managed to impersonate the Democrat – with his consent – on the platform. “Guarantees like Twitter’s blue tick once empowered users to be smart, critical consumers”he reminds the billionaire who, not a fan of criticism, sends him packing: “Maybe it’s because your real account looks like a parody?” On the European side, the Minister Delegate for the Digital Transition, Jean-Noël Barrot, also clap your fist monday : “It has been demonstrated that a social network publisher cannot rely on the sole payment of eight euros to evade its duty to moderate illegal content”he denounces on his account.
The United States more conciliatory than Europe
These political pressures are added to the long list of complaints of which Elon Musk is already the subject. Since the takeover of Twitter, the boss of Tesla has been targeted by a collective action launched by former employees of the network who were dismissed without sufficient notice. Just last week, the US competition authority, the Federal Trade Commission, issued a warning against him after the departures (voluntary, this time) of certain executives, including Damien Kieran, head of data privacy, Lea Kissner, Head of Security and Yoel Roth, Former Head of Trust and Safety. “We are following recent developments at Twitter with great concern. No CEO or company is above the law”says the agency.
Following their financial losses, could Eli Lilly and Lockheed Martin in turn sue Musk? Contacted by Releasethe first indicates “at this stage” can not “communicate the steps likely to be taken”. However, even if a complaint were filed, it is clear that it would certainly be futile. Unlike Europe which, through the Digital Services Act, makes platforms more responsible for their content, the United States is much more conciliatory. At issue: Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. This text of law written in 1996 guarantees the immunity of the sites and social networks which it considers as “IT service providers” and not publishers of information. In other words: even if Elon Musk’s strategy precipitated the appearance of fake accounts, the billionaire is not considered responsible for their publications. A rather comfortable position.