Technology

How Much Did Twitter’s Verification Chaos Cost Eli Lilly

The Eli Lilly corporate center with a fountain in the background a sign reading "Lilly Corporate Center."

Pharma company Eli Lilly has been criticized heavily in the past for the price of insulin, but the company has claimed it is not profiting off those increases.
Photo: Darron Cummings (AP)

As much as last week’s $8 Twitter verification chaos warped many public faces into gross parodies of their sterilized brands, one pharma company that has long hiked the price of a life-saving drug was caught in the crossfire and may have lost millions because of one fake post. New reports reveal just how much chaos one single tweet from a legitimate seeming Twitter account caused the multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical company.

On Nov. 10, a fake verified account going by Eli Lilly and Company wrote “we are excited to announce insulin is free now.” The announcement had over 1,500 retweets and 10,000 likes before it was finally taken down, but despite the rather middling performance in the grand scheme of Twitter posts, a host of other fake accounts were quick to do the same thing.

The real Eli Lilly account, @LillyPad, tweeted in response to all the chaos “We apologize to those who have been served a misleading message from a fake Lilly account.” Most importantly for the company, however, all the hubbub had an outsized impact on Eli Lilly’s very real stock price. Google analytics shows that after that initial tweet and subsequent copycat accounts, the pharma company’s stock sank from $368 a share to $346 a share, which according to economic reports at the time—reportedly erased billions in market cap. The company had been on an upward trend over the past several months but it has not yet recovered to its original price as of reporting Monday morning.

The company told Gizmodo via email that “In recent days, fake/parody Twitter accounts for Lilly have communicated false information and we’re working to correct this situation.” The company did not make any statement about how much the debacle cost their company, or how this might impact future advertising decisions on Twitter.

Two unnamed sources who had knowledge of the matter told The Washington Post that workers within the company rushed to contact Twitter and get them to take down the fake accounts, but the posts remained up for hours. Twitter has reportedly cut thousands of employees from across the board. Communications is one of those departments that experienced huge staffing cuts, and it’s why, though we contacted Twitter for comment, we don’t expect to hear back.

The company has halted all advertising on Twitter, according to the Post. Those accounts could be worth “millions” of dollars for Twitter, according to former Senior Communications Director at Eli Lilly, Amy O’Connor, speaking to WaPo.

Eli Lilly, the pharma company and drug maker, is one of just three companies that manufactures insulin medication that is utterly necessary for people with type 1 and some type 2 diabetes. Synthetic insulin was discovered over a century ago, and has been mass manufactured for decades, but the price of the life-saving medication has ballooned enormously in recent years. The price of insulin medication annually doubled from 2012 to 2016, from $2,864 to $5,705. Advocacy group Patients for Affordable Drugs has said Eli Lilly’s price in particular has gone up by 1,200% since 1996.

In the meantime, Eli Lilly has claimed that it has not profited off the rising cost of insulin.

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders from Vermont also lambasted the company for “increasing the price of insulin… while it costs less than $10 to manufacture.” Twitter’s new owner Elon Musk then took the time to respond to the senator, trying to make the case that newer forms of Insulin are more expensive to manufacture. Ironically enough, Twitter’s own Birdwatch feature commented to the world’s richest man that while in the U.S. a standard unit of insulin medication costs upwards of $99, other countries see insulin prices of less than $10.

Twitter’s own misinformation system disagreed with owner Elon Musk about insulin prices.

Twitter’s own misinformation system disagreed with owner Elon Musk about insulin prices.
Screenshot: Twitter/Gizmodo

Twitter verification has proved to be an utter shitshow, and the company doesn’t seem to have an answer yet as to how it’ll fix it. The $8 monthly price tag for a blue checkmark allowed some of the worst accounts on the internet, including neo-nazis and transphobes, to gain an extra bit of legitimacy. U.S. Senator Ed Markey from Massachusetts said he worked with a Washington Post reporter to help prove how easy it was to set up a fake, verified account on Twitter, and has publicly called on the company to take responsibility. But the man behind the company has already dismissed Senator Markey’s concerns. Musk responded to Markey in a tweet, saying his official account already resembles a parody account and then went on to seemingly poke fun at the Congressman for wearing a face mask in his Twitter profile picture.



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