How Identity Theft on Twitter Caused Eli Lilly to Lose Billions

Identity theft is not a joke and the case of pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly is a prime example of that, as its stocks plunged following a misleading “verified” Twitter post.

Insulin producer Eli Lilly lost USD$ 15 billion in 20 minutes. All because of a tweet. And here’s the worst part: they didn’t even write that tweet.

While the internet is no stranger to misrepresentation, it’s a wholly different story once money is involved. In fact, this Eli Lilly fiasco has caused a huge dent in the company’s shares following a tweet that was made by an imposter account. But what made it believable was that the fake account was verified, thanks to Musk’s paid service.

An Identity Crisis in the Making

The tweet, which was sent at 1:36PM by impostor account @EliLillyandCo, reads: “We are excited to announce insulin is free now.” It remained online for hours—even garnering over 3,000 likes and 500 retweets.

Following this miscommunication, the company responded with an apology, confirming that “Our official Twitter account is @LillyPad.”

However, the damage has already been made. With that, the shares of pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly (LLY) dropped by 4.37% to USD$352.30 (around PHP 20,200) just last Friday—effectively erasing over USD$15 billion in market cap.

And there was no free insulin to be had.

As of Friday, the imposter account was no longer verified, and all its tweets have been set to private. Moreover, a spokesperson for Eli Lilly told The Washington Post that the company is “in communication with Twitter to address the issue,” but gave no other updates.

A Series of Unfortunate Tweets

Eli Lilly joins the ranks of other companies that were impersonated after the new policy of buying “verification” for $8 a month was rolled out—a service called Twitter Blue.

Since its update on Wednesday, many pranksters impersonated celebrities, brands, and even Elon Musk himself, with unflattering messages and empty promises. In response to that and the viral insulin issue, Musk reportedly suspended Twitter Blue signups as of Friday afternoon—48 hours after its launch.

According to an internal memo obtained by Zoë Schiffer of Platformer, the move was to “help address impersonation issues.”

This time around, users can tell who was verified before Twitter Blue and who paid the $8 monthly fee for the privilege by clicking on the checkmark in people’s profiles. According to Musk himself, the rollout of “official” badges for notable companies and other entities is manifested through a gray badge found under the user’s name.

What Went Wrong

With a service that instantly allows an account to be verified—instead of going through the proper motions of verifying and checking its authenticity—it is evident that this service will do more harm than good. While parodies and tongue-in-cheek tweets are made in good fun, it’s a different case all together when serious topics are broached.

In the case of Eli Lilly, the issue revolved around pricing insulin. Eli Lilly, along with drugmakers Novo Nordisk and Sanofi, are the top players in the insulin market—accounting for the entire insulin supply in the US and 90% of the worldwide supply.

Insulin, which is used to manage blood sugar, is an important part in treating diabetes. This life-saving drug was discovered by Sir Frederick G Banting, Charles H Best and JJR Macleod at the University of Toronto in 1921 and the patent for this was sold for just USD$1 each. In fact, one of the team members, Sir Frederick G. Banting, said that: “Insulin does not belong to me, it belongs to the world.”

And with that false tweet, the debate around insulin pricing resurfaced, which negatively hit investor sentiment.

Charge to Experience

The aftermath of this fiasco has proved to be a costly “charge to experience” for Musk, given that he has peppered it with his brand of bawdy jokes and trolls. But as the new owner of the social media giant, he now needs to learn how to operate it as a business.

A costly mistake it was indeed, given that the Eli Lilly executives themselves issued a mandate to halt all Twitter ad campaigns. Likewise, their Twitter publishing plan for all corporate accounts around the world have been halted. And by the looks of it, it looks like other brands will follow suit.

The key takeway for Musk? Think before you tweet or announce any policies. Not before checking with your team.