The BBC has removed a story about Will Ferrell apologizing to Sunderland football fans, after being tricked by a parody Twitter account with a paid blue brand.
Ferrell, who has been touring Britain attending football matches for the past month, recorded a video before Sunderland played his team Queens Park Rangers in which he mocked the “tears of sadness” they would experience their opponents.
After the game, which Sunderland won 3-0, a Twitter account called “Will Ferrell” tweeted a screenshot of a headline about Sunderland fans returning and said “Haway man, sorry”.
Readers who tapped the account (@OfficialWilllF, with three “l’s”) would see that it had a blue “verified” check mark. But only if they tapped on the brand itself would they be told the account “is verified because it’s subscribed to Twitter Blue,” Twitter’s paid subscription. The bio on the account reads “Comedian, actor, impressionist (parody)” and has less than 40,000 followers.
“In a BBC News Online article, we incorrectly said that QPR fan and actor Will Ferrell had apologized for mocking Sunderland fans,” the broadcaster said in a statement. “It was a quote from a verified Twitter account, but not by the actor. We removed the article in its entirety as it was based entirely on the apology.”
Twitter’s move to replace its “legacy” verification, which required accounts to prove they were who they said they were, with paid Twitter Blue has led to a number of phishing incidents.
The weekend the service launched, several accounts paid for re-verification after changing their names to large companies or advertisers. A prankster logged in and verified the handle of pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly before tweeting that insulin would be free, an announcement that had an immediate impact on the company’s share price.
Elon Musk, the site’s owner and CEO, was also the target of a series of phishing incidents, until the verification program was briefly suspended. When it resumed, Musk said he had safeguards against identity theft, but in January the Washington Post has successfully registered and verified a fake account claiming to be US Senator Ed Markey.
Despite the problems at Twitter, Meta announced Monday that it will follow the company’s lead and offer paid verification for Facebook and Instagram users. However, the service will differ from Twitter Blue in some ways, with a higher cost (starting at $11.99) and a requirement that users provide proof of identity before being granted the verified tag.