Burger King's Twitter account has been suspended after hackers took it over, announced Burger King had been sold to McDonalds, and performed "shout-outs" to various users while claiming employees had been caught sniffing Percocet in restaurant bathrooms. Now gone, the account displayed "McDonalds" next to the blue "Verified" symbol for about an hour, prompting reports from ABC, The Atlantic, and many others. It's a black eye for Burger King — albeit one that reportedly garnered about 30,000 new followers — but a bigger blow to Twitter, which has spent the past years positioning itself as a prime location for businesses and celebrities, a kind of online business card.
Twitter is an indispensable business tool, but hacks remain an embarrassing fact of life
Twitter has become indispensable to public figures. As of last month, all 100 senators were on the site, and the Pope famously began tweeting last year. At the same time, Twitter hacks have remained a periodic and embarrassing fact of life. Before Burger King, Gizmodo suffered a hack in August of 2012, and celebrities like Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga have had their accounts temporarily hijacked for derogatory messages or spam. Earlier this month, Twitter reported that 250,000 accounts may have been compromised in what it called a sophisticated hacking attempt. Twitter is clearly aware of the problem, and it's made moves towards two-factor authentication and other security improvements, but so far they're still a work in progress.
Though compromised email addresses or databases may ultimately do more damage to a company, Twitter hacks are immediate and obvious, spreading rapidly through followers. For an active account, hacks are a major gaffe; for less-active ones, they're a risk that diminishes the value of Twitter's service. All things considered, Burger King's feed was relatively moribund: it had only 80,000 followers to McDonalds' 960,000 or Taco Bell's 347,000. But its hack is the latest signal that Twitter's ubiquitous platform is more fragile than it first appears.