Twitter verification fiasco could end in court

The Twitter Verification System the debacle had more twists and turns than a Stephen King novel, which is fitting, considering the author has been at the center of yet another storm on the platform. Verified user “legacy” due to his fame as a horror novelist, King likely expected to lose his blue tick on April 20, when Twitter owner Elon Musk announced he was planning to undemarcate all legacy users.

But while those around him lost their blue ticks, King kept his. It soon emerged that Musk had chosen the writer and two others – NBA star LeBron James and Star Trek actor William Shatner – to receive the blue check for free. These new blue checks come with a label that says, “This account is verified because they follow Twitter Blue and have verified their phone number.” The king opposed it. “My Twitter account says I’m following Twitter Blue,” he tweeted. ” I do not have. My Twitter account says I gave a phone number. I did not do it.

More confusion followed when Twitter backtracked on Musk’s set-or-shut approach to verification. It now appears that any former Twitter user with over a million followers before April 20 has had their check mark reinstated, along with a note that they paid for it. Many claim they haven’t, which, if true, could open Twitter up to a host of legal issues.

“There are a number of potential legal claims we might see on Twitter awarding blue checks to accounts that haven’t signed up there and don’t want them,” says law and media professor Alexandra Roberts. at Northeastern University. “Since Blue Checks are supposed to be for users who subscribe to Twitter Blue and have verified their phone number.”

Among the laws Twitter could violate, Roberts says, include federal laws prohibiting false advertising or endorsement and state laws against allegations of unfair competition, as well as lawsuits for defamation and misappropriation of publicity rights. Any cases falling under these laws (“none are a slam dunk”, according to Roberts) should prove that Twitter’s false claim that celebrities had paid for Blue constitutes an endorsement of the service or commercial use by the company. platform, or that consumers see them would be misled.

Some researchers believe it is possible to make this case.

“What Musk does by paying for certain celebrities to retain a blue checkmark may be considered an unfair or deceptive practice because it creates the impression to the public, including consumers, that these specific celebrities endorse Twitter’s business models” , says Catalina Goanta. , Associate Professor of Law, Economics and Governance at Faculty of Law of the University of Utrecht. “Only LeBron James or William Shatner have the right to use their own personalities and public images.”

The launch of Twitter Blue was not a resounding success. It is would have making Twitter less than 1% of its targeted annual revenue. Twitter did not respond to a request for comment on this story beyond sending an automated poop emoji response.

By imposing blue checkmarks on reluctant users, Twitter could also have opened itself up to regulatory action.

“The US, EU and UK have similar rules in this regard, prohibiting unfair and deceptive practices that can manipulate consumers and affect markets,” Goanta says.

The Federal Trade Commission Act prohibits deceptive acts or practices affecting commerce – to say that countless celebrities and well-known people have paid for a Twitter Blue subscription when they haven’t seems like a pretty good example of that. “It’s also possible we’ll see agency action,” she said. The FTC declined to comment.

The platform could face similar action in the UK, under “passing off” laws, says Andres Guadamuz, a law and technology academic specializing in intellectual property at the University of Sussex. Because the checkmark implies the wearer paid for the service, “that’s a misrepresentation,” Guadamuz says.

Given the widespread disregard on Twitter for people who have paid for verification, celebrities could also argue that their reputations have been tarnished.

“Any celebrity who wants to troll Musk should seriously consider calling their lawyers,” Guadamuz said. “That could be a very strong case.”

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