As Elon Musk rolled out the new Twitter Blue verified paid accounts program after his takeover last week, Eli Lilly became the first Big Pharma to fall prey to fake Twitter handles appearing on the social media platform. In Lilly’s case, the fake account claimed the company was giving out free insulin.
A fraudulent Eli Lilly account with the username @EliLillyandCo tweeted a message on November 10 that said: “We are excited to announce insulin is free now.”
In just a few hours, the message was retweeted more than 1,500 times and garnered 11,000 likes. At first look, the tweet looks legitimate as the Twitter account has a blue check beside its name, which has been synonymous with a verified account.
The Twitter Blue program was initially run by Twitter staff who would conduct reviews to verify users. However, after Musk took helm of the platform on October 28 in a $44 billion deal, he changed it to a subscription-based program with little to no surveillance. For $8 a month, users can subscribe to the program and receive a blue check mark for their Twitter handle.
As the Tweet gained traction, Lilly shares took a hit the next day, falling by 4.37 percent, or by $16.08 down to $352.30.
Lilly’s official Twitter handle is @LillyPad, from which the company tweeted to clarify the fake message: “We apologize to those who have been served a misleading message from a fake Lilly account. Our official Twitter account is @LillyPad.”
Another fraudulent Lilly account with the username @LillyPadCo put out its own insulin Tweet, announcing that the company’s Humalog brand insulin was now $400. The Tweet was more easily spottable as being fake because of its questionable wording: “Humalog is now $400. We can do this whenever we want and there’s nothing you can do about it. Suck it.”
According to the Washington Post, there are talks of Eli Lilly pulling its ads from Twitter in light of the fake insulin Tweet incident.
Outside of pharma, a lot of other prominent Twitter users were subject to the same kind of fraud. A fake Lockheed Martin account claimed the company was stopping weapons sales in some countries and a fake LeBron James account tweeted that the NBA star was requesting a trade from the Los Angeles Lakers.
Lilly, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi are the biggest producers of insulin: together, the trio produces 100 percent of the insulin in the US and 90 percent globally.
As such, the fake Tweet also put Novo and Sanofi in the spotlight, as the topic of insulin pricing in the US has been a topic of hot debate in recent years. This led to a 3.4 percent drop in Sanofi shares while Novo’s stock tumbled similarly by 3.5 percent.
In the third quarter of this year, Lilly’s insulin products generated more than $878 million in sales, despite that sales fell more than 20 percent year over year. Lilly noted that there were price cuts to Humalog during the quarter.
On average, it is estimated that insulin costs about $98.70 per vial, which is more than ten times the average price in about 32 other countries. The second highest pricing for insulin in the world is in Japan, where a unit costs $14.40.
Lilly is now offering a program in which insulin can cost as little as $35 per month.
In August, the Senate passed the Inflation Reduction Act, which included a proposal for a $35 monthly price cap for insulin for people on both government healthcare programs and private insurance. However, due to three missing Senators on the day of voting — the cap for private insurers had to be approved by 60 Senators but only 57 voted — the final bill did not include the insulin price cap for private insurance but did include it for Medicare patients.