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Eli Lilly apologizes for parody tweet announcing free insulin

The account that tweeted the announcement had a blue checkmark, but was not a verified Eli Lilly account. It has since been suspended.

INDIANAPOLIS — For the past two days, pranksters on Twitter have created imposter accounts after Twitter launched a new verification service on Wednesday called “Twitter Blue.” 

The service originally let people pay $7.99 to get a verified blue check mark, but on Friday that service appeared to be suspended. 

Despite the pause, it didn’t stop a flood of misinformation on the social media site.  

On Thursday, Eli Lilly had to clear up confusion about a fake tweet telling people their insulin was now free.

The message was posted from a made-up account with the username "@EliLillyandCo" that had a blue checkmark, symbolizing it was a "verified" Twitter account. 

"We are excited to announce insulin is free now," the tweet read. 

The tweet was posted at 1:36 p.m. EST Thursday and was liked and retweeted thousands of times. By 8:30 p.m. Thursday, the tweet had been been deleted by Twitter for violating the social media platform's rules. 

An hour later, the account had been suspended entirely.

According to Snopes, the account that posted the tweet initially had the Lilly logo as its profile picture, adding to the apparent authenticity. That photo was removed and a comment identifying the account as an impersonation before the tweet was deleted altogether.

The account was created in August 2020 and had just one tweet before Thursday's post, according to its current timeline. The account's profile describes it as parody and satire. 

Eli Lilly's official account, @LillyPad, tweeted shortly after 4 p.m., apologizing for the earlier tweet.

"We apologize to those who have been served a misleading message from a fake Lilly account," the tweet read. 

The tweet highlighted the most controversial decision in the early days of Elon Musk's ownership of Twitter. Users can pay $8 for access to "Twitter Blue," which adds a blue checkmark to their tweets, which once was a sign of authenticity for businesses, government agencies, journalists, entertainers and others. 

Earlier this week, Musk threatened to permanently suspend accounts that impersonate others after several celebrities changed their display name to "Elon Musk." 

RELATED: Elon Musk reverses 'official' label, seeks to soothe big advertisers on Twitter

“This is really unique and something I have never seen before until the Musk takeover and the verification service,” said Nicholas Casas, a misinformation expert with Indiana University.  

Casas said these parody accounts are not only concerning, but can also have real-world consequences.  

“You are dealing with people’s lives, and you are also dealing with people’s hopes when they are trying to afford treatments such as insulin or medication,” he said. 

It’s why he said it is important to be skeptical of what you read online, especially on Twitter right now. He said one way to do that, is to Google the account’s handle and compare it to other social media platforms.  

“It can help see where that name is attached to,” Casas said. 

How to identify verified accounts

While it's difficult to tell the difference between a verified account and a paid Twitter Blue account, clicking or tapping on an account's blue checkmark provides information if a user has been vetted or if they have paid for verification. 

Accounts that have gone through a verification process include, "This account is verified because it’s notable in government, news, entertainment, or another designated category." 

Credit: Twitter
A screenshot of the explanation of a blue checkmark for a verified Twitter account.

Meanwhile, an account that has a blue checkmark via subscription reads, "This account is verified because it’s subscribed to Twitter Blue."

Credit: Twitter
A screenshot of the explanation of a blue checkmark for a Twitter Blue subscriber.

Thursday night, Musk tweeted that parody accounts must now include the word "parody" in their name, not just in their profile.

"To be more precise, accounts doing parody impersonations. Basically, tricking people is not ok," Musk wrote. 

Rising cost of insulin

Eli Lilly's response to the fake tweet drew replies from dozens of users asking about the cost of insulin. 

One user shared a photo of her receipt for Eli Lilly's Humalog, showing a total of $2,267.99, which is more than $320 per vial, she wrote.

Earlier this month, 11Alive in Atlanta reached out to the three major insulin manufacturers in the United States about rising medication prices and what patients can do when they can't afford their insulin.

"Today, anyone is eligible to purchase their Lilly insulin prescription for $35 or less per month, regardless of the number of pens or vials they use, and whether they are uninsured or use commercial insurance, Medicaid, or are enrolled in a participating Medicare Part D plan," Lilly replied in a statement.

RELATED: Yes, U.S. insulin prices are far higher than these other countries, like viral tweets claim

The drugmaker said anyone who is paying more than $35 per month for their insulin should call the Lilly Diabetes Solution Center at 833-808-1234 or visit insulinaffordability.com.  

Why are the costs so high?

In September, WKYC-TV in Cleveland investigated the rising prices for the life-saving medication. 

One reason, the station found, is "evergreening," where manufacturers slightly change the formulation so they can extend patents.

Another reason is demand for the latest formulations and middlemen also drive-up cost. And the lack of generic versions is also a reason for the price hike. 

RELATED: Inflation Reduction Act only caps insulin prices for Medicare patients, not for people with private insurance

Newer versions of insulin can easily retail for more than $300 a vial, and diabetics typically use one or two vials a month.

Studies suggest as many as 1 in 4 turn to rationing. 

"There are stories where people have to stretch their insulin supply until their next paycheck and that is so dangerous," Rachel said.

What can you do?

Check out the manufacturer’s website, some offer co-pay caps, coupons or discount cards that may help

  • Go to getinsulin.org where you plug in your information and they find the deals you may qualify for.
  • Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about other options.
  • Price shop local pharmacies.
  • Contact your state and federal representatives and ask them to support price caps.

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