Blue Tick Accounts on Twitter Add Weight to Pentagon Explosion Hoax

Oh wow, who could have seen this coming?

Earlier today, a range of blue tick accounts on Twitter sparked confusion, and even a dip in the stockmarket, after sharing what appear to be AI-generated images of an explosion outside the Pentagon building.

As reported by Vice:

Accounts such as @WarMonitors, @BloombergFeed, and RT posted an image of a large, gray smoke cloud appearing next to a white government building with a corresponding caption that stated there was an explosion near the Pentagon. Bellingcat journalist Nick Waters tweeted that there are a few signs that make it an AI image, including that the fence melds into the crowd barriers on the image and there are no other images or videos being posted on social media.”

Several blue tick accounts with over a million followers retweeted the image, lending credibility to the hoax, with Twitter’s new blue checkmark process adding weight to the claims based on habitual reliance on what the checkmark indicator has meant.

Which had been an indicator of trust, at least to some degree. But now that anyone can buy a blue tick, it doesn’t mean much at all, yet many users won’t necessarily make that connection, or even know what to trust in Twitter’s current state.

Twitter chief Elon Musk is hoping to address such concerns via increased use of Community Notes, which enables Twitter users to fact-check information. The problem with that approach is that it can’t function in real-time, and if a hoax spreads fast, that can still lead to major concerns, before its ‘community noted’ and explained with additional context.

The reinterpretation of the blue tick, along with the rise of AI-generated images, has already led to several incidents of misunderstanding and misinformation, including the fake Eli Lilly tweet, which sparked a massive dip in the company’s share price, and the AI-generated image of the Pope in a puffer jacket, which many were convinced was real.

These two incidents highlight the scope of the potential concern here – from business risk to light-hearted in nature. But there have also been false reports of Russian aircraft being armed with nuclear payloads to attack Ukraine, the type of reporting that can spread major panic before it’s able to be addressed in Community Notes form.

It seems, on balance, that Twitter’s reformation of its verification system is likely more trouble than it’s worth, in regards to additional income from people paying $8 per month. At present, only around 0.3% of Twitter users have signed up to the program, bringing in $15.9 million per quarter for the platform – which pales in comparison to the $1 billion+ that it generates from ads every three months.

Will that end up being worth it, amid hoaxes and concerns like this based on misinterpretation of what the blue tick now represents?

Maybe, users will shift their expectations quickly, and the marker will become less of an indicator of trust – but then again, isn’t that the exact value that Twitter’s trying to pitch to subscribers with the $8 per month program?

It’s another example of why Twitter’s verification reformation is a flawed approach, and it’ll be interesting to see if this changes with a new CEO at the helm.

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