What just happened? Elon Musk has his hands full right now with the massive upheaval at Twitter, not to mention his duties at SpaceX, Tesla, and other ventures. But it appears the world's richest man always has time to get involved in an online spat. This time, it's with Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts, who has told Musk to fix his companies or "congress will."

It shouldn't come as a surprise to learn that the incident revolves around Musk's controversial revamp of Twitter's verification system, which is now part of the $8 per month Twitter Blue service---subscribers automatically receive a blue checkmark.

To highlight the problems with Musk's verification system, a Washington Post reporter set up a fake account named @realEdMarkey pretending to be the senator. Not only was the imitation verified, but the account also showed a pop-up stating that it received verification because the holder is a "notable person in government." And this was despite Markey having two accounts, both showing existing checkmarks.

The report prompted Markey to send a letter to Musk requesting a detailed explanation of the new verification system and how it differs from the free version that preceded it.

Musk, who once called a cave diver involved in the rescue of a soccer team in Thailand a "pedo guy," was his usual diplomatic self in his reply to Markey; he claimed the senator's real account sounds like a parody. Musk followed up by asking why Markey's profile picture showed him wearing a mask.

Markey didn't take the responses with good humor. "One of your companies is under an FTC consent decree. Auto safety watchdog NHTSA is investigating another for killing people. And you're spending your time picking fights online. Fix your companies. Or Congress will," he wrote.

It took just two days after launch for Twitter to suspend paid-account verification, a response to the hundreds of users impersonating public entities; one person pretending to be Eli Lilly crashed the pharmaceutical company's stock price after they tweeted it would no longer charge for insulin. Musk said anyone impersonating a public figure would be permanently banned from Twitter.

This isn't the first time that Musk and Markey have butted heads. The latter, along with Sen. Richard Blumenthal, asked the Federal Trade Commission in August 2021 to investigate how Tesla advertised its driver-assistance technologies. With Joe Biden already considering looking at Musk's business dealings, the billionaire could soon be facing even more problems from the government.

Masthead: Victoria Pickering