When a woman in her twenties in Tokyo tried to log into Twitter in September, she saw a message saying her account had been made inaccessible.
This has prevented her from uploading new posts in which she offers advice via the social networking site to a range of people working in her industry.
Searching for the reason for the suspension, the victim spotted a fake account with his name and profile.
Although it is a fake, the account displays the verified badge given to those found to be genuine by Twitter filtering.
After seeing the fake account, she remembered a strange message she had received a few hours earlier from an unknown user.
“We are going to form a union for our industry,” the user told him in the direct message accessible only to the sender and receiver. “Do you offer your support? We will take action against you unless you comply with our request.
As she was suspicious of the comment, the woman posted a tweet about the personal message, writing, “I don’t know this guy. Threatening to take action sounds horrible.
After that, she had her account suspended. The user with over 20,000 followers complained about his issues with Twitter after it was hacked.
The inability to contact people seeking her consultations for three weeks before her account was reopened caused the woman a lot of problems.
“It could have been done as revenge for not respecting the request,” the victim said. “But it went too far as a prank.”
The sender of the direct message has not yet been identified.
Others criticizing the suspension of the woman’s account as “inappropriate” had theirs frozen as well. Among them, a 49-year-old man who runs a chain of restaurants in the capital.
While using Twitter for his business, the man says he had trouble reopening his account. The male user later learned that nearly 20 people had suffered similar damage.
“I reached out to Twitter for advice, but no response came,” the man said. “I couldn’t handle the problem on my own as an individual.”
A source knowledgeable about how Twitter works explained why fake accounts can look identical to their genuine counterparts.
Twitter accounts are being sold on a massive scale in e-commerce marketplaces and elsewhere on the internet, with some even sporting verified badges.
If such verified accounts are purchased and their names and profiles are changed to those of real accounts, fake accounts with verified badges may be created.
Asked about the case, a representative for major computer security firm Trend Micro Inc. said it was “apparently the very first instance” of its kind.
“Users with large followings will likely be targeted more often,” the rep said.
Ken Ogiso, who is well-versed in digital literacy and teaches internet safety in elementary and secondary schools nationwide, said he’s never heard of such an event in which verified badges are misused. to lend credibility to fictitious accounts.
“Twitter is part of a powerful information infrastructure right now,” Ogiso said. “Full-fledged countermeasures are apparently needed.”
In response to an inquiry from Asahi Shimbun, a Twitter official declined to comment on individual cases, but acknowledged that “reports are coming in from all over the world every day about misconduct.”
“We may not be able to take action in a timely manner, but we want users to actively notify us of irregularities,” the official said.