A fake Will Ferrell account has fooled the BBC into verifying Twitter Blue

The problem with the latest social media trend of paid verification is being highlighted by an unlikely source: actor and comedian Will Ferrell.

Or, really, an account pretending to be Will Ferrell.

On February 18, the Tyne & Wear section of BBC News published an article entitled “QPR fan and actor Will Ferrell apologizes for mocking Sunderland fans.” The play’s headline comes from a tweet taken by Twitter account was posted @OfficialWillF(Opens in a new tab) with the display name “Will Ferrell”. The Twitter avatar also features a photo of Ferrell.

The article embedded a tweet allegedly showing the actor apologizing to Sunderland football fans after his favorite football team, Queens Park Rangers, lost a game.

Only there was one problem: the entire premise of the article was based on a tweet(Opens in a new tab) from a fake Will Ferrell account on Twitter.

“Haway Mann sorry @SunderlandAFC,” it read tweet(Opens in a new tab) from the fake Ferrell account.

The user attached a screenshot of a previous article that referenced a Video(Opens in a new tab) features the real Will Ferrell supporting his team from the game.

“In a BBC News Online article we falsely claimed that QPR fan and actor Will Ferrell apologized for mocking Sunderland fans,” the BBC said in a opinion(Opens in a new tab). “One quote is from a verified Twitter account, but it’s not from the actor. We removed the article entirely as it was based solely on the apology.”

BBC removed the piece, but Mashable found one archived version(Opens in a new tab) of the article in the Internet Archive.

An archived version of the deleted article from the Internet Archive.
Photo Credit: Mashable Screenshot/Internet Archive

While the @OfficialWilllF account mentions that it’s a “parody” in their Twitter bio, they also have a blue verified tick. For many years, these ticks have been used to verify that an account is in fact who it says it is – a process controlled by the people who work at Twitter itself.

Ever since Elon Musk acquired the company and introduced Twitter Blue subscriptions, virtually anyone can purchase a blue tick for their profile after signing up for an $8-a-month subscription. No actual ID verification is required to prove that a user is who they say they are.

This ultimately leads to a situation where an account with the display name “Will Ferrell” and the word “official” in its Twitter handle is mistaken for the real Will Ferrell – all because the account now has a blue verified badge. A quick click on the badge confirms that this user has purchased that blue tick.

Wrong Will Ferrell

This isn’t the real Will Ferrell.
Credit: Mashable Screenshot

Twitter delayed the original implementation of Twitter Blue in November, after users started signing up for the paid subscription service only to get a verified tick on fake accounts pretending to be brands, company CEOs, and celebrities. These issues played a role in the company lose about half of its largest advertisers.

But obviously also after that reboot of the service, the problem persists.

While the author of the BBC article should have double-checked that the account really does belong to the actor, this very scenario puts the spotlight on the real issue. If the BBC has been confused by a Twitter Blue user pretending to be someone they are not, imagine how confusing this must be for the average Twitter user who has already grown accustomed to the idea that a verification badge means that a particular user is legitimate.

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