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Fake Twitter Accounts of Sports Stars Trick Users Amid Verification Muddle

Twitter users were tricked by newly-verified fake accounts purporting to be famous athletes following the launch of Elon Musk’s new subscription-based “verification” system.
Musk’s updated “Twitter Blue” subscription plan, which includes “priority” feed placement in addition to a “verified” checkmark for a $7.99 monthly fee, launched on Wednesday. Almost immediately, impersonator accounts emerged on the platform and spread false claims about famous athletes before being suspended.
An account purporting to be Los Angeles Lakers basketball star LeBron James falsely claimed that James was requesting a trade to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The tweet remained online for around 30 minutes and had thousands of engagements before the account was suspended, according to Snopes.
“I am officially requesting a trade,” the fake account tweeted. “Thank you #LakersNation for all the support through the years. Onto bigger and better things! #ThekidfromAKRON #ImComingHome”
Musk’s new verification system was blasted by some who had previously been verified under the old system after the fake tweet spread.
“I want to congratulate Elon and Twitter for the spectacular speed in which their blue check program is melting down,” tweeted retired sportscaster John Telich. “Well done. #fakelebron dude didn’t even get the ‘kid from Akron’ saying right.”
I want to congratulate Elon and Twitter for the spectacular speed in which their blue check program is melting down. Well done . #fakelebron dude didn’t even get the “ kid from Akron” saying right. pic.twitter.com/JpAEAehaP7 — .@JohnTelich8 (@JohnTelich8) November 9, 2022
A tweet purporting to be from the verified account of Edmonton Oilers hockey star Connor McDavid may have fooled thousands more with a false claim that McDavid had been traded to the New York Islanders.
“I have officially been traded to the New York Islanders, but i will always be thankful for my time at Edmonton and the support i’ve gotten throughout the years,” tweeted the fake McDavid account. “It’s onto better and greater things in long island now! #LetsGoOilers #Isles.”
Seeing more suspicious accounts pop up as of late, like this one pretending to be Oilers captain Connor McDavid (@cmcdavid97).
Keep an eye out for this kind of nefarious stuff, folks!#yeg pic.twitter.com/g9FQdeUeMB — David Boles (@DavidJBoles) November 9, 2022
Other fake tweets from verified impersonator accounts on Wednesday included one purporting to be from MLB relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman, most recently of the New York Yankees, which falsely claimed that he had “re-signed with the Yankees for 3 more years.”
This was a “verified with $8 account” pretending to be Yankee reliever Aroldis Chapman, pranking Yankee fans by saying he just re-signed for three years (he sucks)
A prank. Suspended now. But shows how screwed up Musk’s pay-to-play verification is, and how dangerous it could be pic.twitter.com/fb9j6T2zQk — Jeff Yang (@originalspin) November 9, 2022
A tweet from an impersonator account purporting to belong to ESPN analyst Adam Schefter also appeared on Wednesday and tweeted out a false claim that NFL coach Josh McDaniels of the Las Vegas Raiders had been fired.
Even though the username says NOT in it, if it’s quote tweeted, it could easily pass as the real Adam Schefter and so many people aren’t gonna take the time to click and investigate https://t.co/MA5fFSiYWW pic.twitter.com/ycRz51DEkx — Joon Lee (@joonlee) November 9, 2022
Several of the newly-verified impersonator accounts were suspended despite claiming that they were “parodies” in their biographies, apparently in response to Musk announcing on Sunday that impersonator accounts must “clearly” specify “parody” to avoid permanent suspensions.
Shortly before Musk’s announcement, the new Twitter boss was himself impersonated by a number of verified accounts that had changed their user display names to match his before tweeting often absurd or unflattering statements.
The fake Musk accounts initially received temporary restrictions before being permanently suspended by the platform. Several accounts posing as Musk were suspended despite the accounts being clearly marked as parodies.
A message that appeared on a page for the new Twitter Blue subscription service on Wednesday said that “Twitter accounts created on or after November 9, 2022 will be unable to subscribe to Twitter Blue at this time.”
Musk and Twitter also refused calls to add an “official” label to accounts of prominent figures on Wednesday, while claiming to be “aggressively going after impersonation and deception.”
We’re not currently putting an “Official” label on accounts but we are aggressively going after impersonation and deception. — Twitter Support (@TwitterSupport) November 9, 2022
Karen North, clinical professor of Digital Social Media at University of California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, told Newsweek that Musk offering paid and apparently unvetted verification contradicted his previous claims of wanting to reduce fake accounts on the platform.
“Elon Musk has been very vocal about the fact that he wants to reduce, if not eliminate, bots,” said North. “He’s been pretty outspoken about the need to stop the fake accounts and the scams.”
“The idea that he would then ask for a subscription fee for verification is the antithesis of what he’s saying,” she added. “Because the verification is the credibility check on the accounts.”
Newsweek reached out to Twitter for comment.

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