Twitter admits it verified fake account of author Cormac McCarthy

Cormac McCarthy is known for his sparse punctuation and distinctive writing style, the violent and pessimistic themes of his work, and his reclusive public persona. So it was surprising to see the novelist on Twitter, sharing bons mots about kombucha and SoundCloud for an audience of thousands.

But it was the real Cormac McCarthy – at least, according to Twitter, which gave the account, registered in 2018 under the misspelled name “CormacMcCrthy”, a blue tick marking it as a “verified user”.

In fact, McCarthy had never signed up for the service, a fact confirmed shortly after by the writer’s agent, who said “it’s obviously not him”. The writer’s publisher also confirmed he was not behind the account.

Twitter acknowledged the mistake on Tuesday morning. A spokesperson said: “The account referenced was verified by mistake and that has since been reversed. The account will also be required to adhere to Twitter’s parody, news feed, commentary, and fan account policy.”

The company did not respond to questions about how the error happened. Only in May this year did Twitter restart its verification process, after “pausing” it for several years to reassess the basics of the programme.

Initially introduced to combat identity theft on the platform, verification has grown to encompass a de facto premium tier of Twitter’s apps. Verified users receive access to extra tools for handling notifications, are given priority by algorithmic filters and moderation, and until recently, were shown few or no adverts on the site.

But in 2017, the company faced an uproar after handing verification badges to a number of prominent users on the far right, including the organiser of the Charlottesville Unite the Right rally, at which a counterprotestor was murdered. It suspended new verifications and spent the next four years working on a tool to allow it to restart in a more systematic manner.

When that tool was launched in May 2021, it lasted just eight days before Twitter again had to pause applications – this time, because of a flood of requests. In order to qualify for verification, users are supposed to authenticate their identity, either by uploading ID or showing that an official website links directly to their Twitter account.

The ersatz Cormac McCarthy did neither. Twitter apparently decided proactively to verify the account anyway, after a viral tweet from the parody account claiming that “my publicist is on my case about my infrequent use of this infernal website”.

“McCrthy” himself has yet to acknowledge the brief epistemological fuss his verification triggered, but in a reply to a query as to who runs the account, it sent an animated gif of a clip from The Simpsons.

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