Twitter was flooded with fake news stories regarding Queen Elizabeth II hours before the monarch passed away.
On Thursday, doctors announced that they were “concerned” for the 96-year-old Queen’s health and leading key members of the royal family rushed to her side in Balmoral, Scotland. That afternoon, the royal family officially announced her passing.
With much of the globe focused on the monarch, scammers across social media took advantage, claiming she’d passed.
As noted by Brian Liston, Senior Threat Intelligence Analyst at the cybersecurity firm Recorded Future, numerous Twitter accounts falsely claimed that the Queen died before she did.
Many of the accounts were found to be posing as major news organizations such as the BBC, CNN, and Sky News.
Although some of the accounts were quickly taken down, countless more were created at the same time to take their place.
Liston further noted that many of the imposter accounts were originally devoted to pushing cryptocurrency scams but had been repurposed in light of the Queen’s then-developing condition.
In just one example, an account posing as the BBC was able to rack up more than 1,000 retweets in just 10 minutes after falsely claiming that the monarch had died.
Speaking with the Daily Dot, Liston outlined an assortment of motivations behind the uptick in false tweets.
“Of course there’s always big appeal in going viral and getting loads of engagement,” Liston said. “Some account owners simply want to get a rise out of people through parodies, memes, and general trolling.”
Liston added that many of the accounts could be exploiting major world events for monetary purposes as well.
“Some accounts I looked at posted a lot of NFT and other crypto content before rebranding as the BBC or whatever, so it could also be an attempt by some to build up an audience and draw folks inconspicuously into a crypto spam,” Liston said.
Fact-checking departments across the media warned users against sharing such tweets.
Analysis by the Daily Dot of a dozen accounts that shared false tweets regarding the Queen found that at least eight had either been deleted or suspended by Twitter before the Queen actually passed.
One user that had posed as the BBC by changing their name and profile image quickly reverted their account back to normal after their tweet began going viral. The user, operating under the handle @astronutria, claimed to the Daily Dot that the tweet had merely been a joke.
“I intended it as a joke between my mutuals, didn’t expect it would get exposure outside that,” they said. “When I saw people I didn’t know started reacting, I immediately took it down.”
Two other profiles also changed their names and pictures back to their originals after posing as news organizations, one of which appeared to be a K-Pop fan account.
*First Published: Sep 8, 2022, 2:36 pm CDT
Mikael Thalen is a tech and security reporter based in Seattle, covering social media, data breaches, hackers, and more.