Some say we are living in a post-truth world. Kellyanne Conway’s famous “alternative facts” gaffe way back in 2017 is one example. Kari Lake, who narrowly missed becoming the Arizona Governor, is convinced the 2020 election was stolen from Trump. Several years ago, a guy from Virginia showed up armed with a gun to free the children being held as sex slaves in the basement of a pizza shop in Washington, D.C. That building has no basement. Now anyone with $8 can sign up for Twitter Blue and create a supposedly verified account blue check mark and all.
This brings me to the free insulin tweet that caused problems for Eli Lilly. You probably know the story. Someone created a fake Twitter account @EliLillyandCo, and then tweeted, “We are excited to announce insulin is free now.” The fake tweet went viral, receiving 1,500 retweets and 11,000 likes in just a few hours. The actual Eli Lilly twitter handle is @LillyPad.
The day the fake tweet hit, @LillyPad tweeted, “We apologize to those who have been served a misleading message from a fake Lilly account. Our official Twitter account is @LillyPad.” This prompted a response from @Oregano_Is_Life saying, “Why are you saying it was a fake account? The tweet was sent from a verified account. Are you lying to us?” This tweet received 235 retweets and almost 24,000 likes.
As if this weren’t bad enough, another fake account @LillyPadCo, tweeted “Humalog is now $400. We can do this whenever we want and there’s nothing you can do about it. Suck it.”
The Ramifications of Misinformation
Lilly said it had a difficult time getting Twitter to delete the fake tweets. Tech observers attribute this to Elon Musk’s job cuts once he took over the company. Lilly pulled all its advertising from Twitter after these fake tweets surfaced and their problems in getting them deleted.
Lilly share price fell 6% the day after the @EliLillyandCo tweet. The shares for Novo Nordisk and Sanofi, other insulin providers, also took a hit. Robert Evans, a podcaster tweeted, “It cost some hero $8 to evaporate billions in Eli Lilly stock value. Elon accidentally created one of the most cost-effective anti-capitalist tools in history.”
The politicians also got into the act. Bernie Sanders tweeted, “Let’s be clear. Eli Lilly should apologize for increasing the price of insulin by over 1,200% since 1996 to $275 while it costs less than $10 to manufacture. The inventors of insulin sold their patents in 1923 for $1 to save lives, not to make Eli Lilly’s CEO obscenely rich.” And so it goes, to quote Kurt Vonnegut, one of my favorite writers.
Let the Lilly tale be a reminder. One of the articles I have my students read is called, “The Big Lie Is Coming for You.” The likelihood is that it’s only a matter of time. I can’t offer much in the way of advice of combating misinformation, but I suggest that you create a plan for what you will do when it happens to you.