By Damita Menezes
Twitter users were in a frenzy on April 21 as a number of fake Twitter accounts impersonated the Chicago Department of Transportation and Mayor Lori Lightfoot, spreading misinformation about the closure of DuSable Lake Shore Drive. The fake announcement was called out by Chicago Tribune reporter Jake Sheridan.
“My best guess is that someone was trying to poke fun or call more attention to Lake Shore Drive redevelopment. I respect the right of activists to call more attention to it, but this isn’t how we do that. I think there could be big consequences in the future to spreading misinformation,” Sheridan said.
Sheridan said he stumbled across the tweets while scrolling on Twitter like he does every morning. He was surprised to see Lake Shore Drive was supposedly closing, as he follows road closures and was aware the redevelopment of the roadway was still ongoing. Although the account appeared genuine, Sheridan noticed typos in the accounts’ usernames and suspected foul play.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago & Illinois’ transportation departments just announced the permanent closure of DuSable Lake Shore Drive.
Except, of course, they didn’t really do that.
Fake accounts posing as (previously verified) government accounts did & 100k+ people saw. pic.twitter.com/RjJ64dEpge
— Jake Sheridan (@JakeSheridan_) April 21, 2023
Sheridan noticed the fake tweets and was concerned about the potential for confusion. He saw the fake tweets had been seen tens of thousands of times, and one of them even received more than 100,000 views. He screenshotted the tweets and called them out for people who may have believed them.
He stressed the importance of media literacy in navigating the vast amounts of information people consume every day and urged people to question the credibility of sources before accepting them as true.
Sheridan said this wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for Twitter ending its free verification check, which previously confirmed a user’s identity and authenticity. Now users will have to pay $8 a month for the verification badge on their profiles. This move has left users more vulnerable to impersonation and misinformation.
As a reporter who uses Twitter for research and information gathering, Sheridan expressed caution about relying too heavily on the platform in the future.
“Twitter taking away that blue checkmark does make it harder for people to tell if the information is trustworthy or not,” he said.
Mayor’s office spokesperson Ryan Johnson in a tweet said they were aware of the fake accounts and were working to take them down. “Users can verify official city accounts by visiting: http://chi.gov/social,” he said.
As of this report, all the fake city accounts have been suspended.