Twitter suspends high-profile accounts after introducing permabans for impersonations

From the time before he took over Twitter, Elon Musk has said that he’s a proponent of free speech. But that commitment is being called into question after several high-profile verified accounts were suspended, possibly permanently, seemingly for impersonating the world’s richest person.

Musk yesterday tweeted one of the rules he’s implementing as Twitter’s new overlord: “any Twitter handles engaging in impersonation without clearly specifying ‘parody’ will be permanently suspended,” he wrote.

Musk added that Twitter currently issues warnings before suspensions, but now that it is rolling out widespread verification, there will be no warning before it takes action.

The billionaire recently confirmed that the optional Twitter Blue service is increasing in price to $8 per month, as opposed to $20, and those who subscribe will be verified. This has brought questions about verified users impersonating well-known people. Musk said this is addressed by including a secondary tag below the name of someone who is a public figure, which is already the case for politicians. It was confirmed yesterday that the new verification system won’t roll out until after the US midterm elections.

Some current verified users have been mocking Musk by impersonating him. Kathy Griffin changed her display name to Elon Musk and made a profile pic similar to the Twitter owner’s. She then tweeted, “After much spirited discussion with the females in my life, I’ve decided that voting blue for their choice is only right (They’re also sexy females, btw.).” The comedian was suspended on Sunday.

Actor Rich Sommer, known for his portrayal of Harry Crane on Mad Men, was also suspended for impersonating Musk, so was the Australian satire website The Chaser, even though it marked the account as a parody and chose the username ‘Elon Musk Fondles Dogs.’ Kotaku notes that Ethan Klein and Chipzel have also been suspended/restricted despite following the parody-label rules. Sarah Silverman’s account was temporarily locked for her impersonation.

It’s speculated that some, but definitely not all, of the suspensions are related to another rule Musk announced that sees the temporary loss of the verified checkmark after any name change.

Many are pointing to the irony of a Musk tweet from October 28 that read, “Comedy is now legal on Twitter.” He’s also said nobody should be given lifetime bans and promised to allow Donald Trump back onto the platform, even though the former president says he doesn’t want to come back.

Part of Musk’s restructuring of Twitter involves laying off around half its staff, or about 3,700 people. The company is now facing a lawsuit over claims that the action was illegal due to the insufficient notice. It’s a situation Musk is familiar with: the same thing happened at Tesla a few months ago.