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November 14, 2022

How a fake tweet cost Eli Lilly billions

Daily Briefing

    A tweet sent Thursday by a Twitter account impersonating Eli Lilly & Co. said, "insulin is free now," causing the company's stock to drop over 4% and leading the company to suspend all activity and advertising on Twitter.

    Fake Twitter account says insulin is free

    The account, @EliLillyandCo, which has since been suspended, tweeted Thursday, "We are excited to announce insulin is free now." The account carried a "verified" blue check mark that, until recently, served to mark accounts as legitimate.

    However, following Twitter's $44 billion acquisition by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, the company launched a program called "Twitter Blue" that allowed anyone to carry the verified blue checkmark if they paid $8 a month. That led to a host of accounts with checkmarks pretending to be various companies, politicians, and celebrities, including accounts impersonating President Joe Biden, basketball player LeBron James, and former President George W. Bush.

    According to two people familiar with the matter who spoke to the Washington Post on condition of anonymity, the fake insulin tweet sparked a panic inside Eli Lilly, with company officials contacting Twitter representatives to delete the tweet. However, the Post reports that Twitter didn't react for hours.

    On Friday, Eli Lilly's stock dropped 4.37%, erasing over $15 billion in market cap, Times Now reports, and Eli Lilly ordered a stop on all Twitter ad campaigns and paused all Twitter activity.

    In a statement, a spokesperson for Eli Lilly, said the company is "deeply committed to ensuring patients and customers receive accurate information about our medicines. In recent days, fake/parody Twitter accounts for Lilly have communicated false information and we're working to correct this situation."

    On Friday evening, Musk tweeted that Twitter would start adding a "parody" tag to fake accounts with blue checkmarks.

    Reaction

    Amy O'Connor, a former senior communications official at Eli Lilly, said Twitter's decision to provide blue checkmarks to anyone paying $8 is costing them ad revenue.

    "For $8, they're potentially losing out on millions of dollars in ad revenue," she said. "What's the benefit to a company … of staying on Twitter? It's not worth the risk when patient trust and health are on the line."

    Jenna Golden, who previously ran Twitter's political and advocacy ad sales until 2017, said the shift to Twitter Blue has destroyed the last bits of trust among advertisers on Twitter.

    "It's making it really easy for advertisers to say: 'You know what, I don't need to be here anymore,' and walk away," she said. "People are not just providing inaccurate information but damaging information, with the ability to look legitimate. That is just not a stable place for a brand to invest."

    O'Connor added that Twitter's new change has companies concerned about participating in a platform where the legitimacy of an account isn't guaranteed.

    "This isn't just about Twitter, this is about patients' 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? It feels like this is literally just the beginning, and it's only going to get worse." (Harwell, Washington Post, 11/14; Mitra, Times Now, 11/12; Lee, Forbes, 11/12; Mollman, Yahoo! Finance, 11/11)

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