What started as a simple way for Twitter to show who was really who on their platform has turned into a major headache. Last week, Twitter “verified” Jason Kessler, the white supremacist organizer of the Charlottesville rally in August that left one woman dead.
Less than a month after Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey recommitted to eliminating hate speech, hate symbols, and violent groups from the platform, Twitter goes ahead and, in the eyes of many users, legitimizes a noted racist. The Twitter verification badge was never meant to act as an endorsement, however. It was simply to establish authenticity so no one could impersonate a celebrity or notable personality.
The backlash to Kessler’s verification was swift and this week Twitter decided to throw it all out the window and remove check marks from a handful of prominent white nationalists and far-right conservatives, including Richard Spencer, Laura Loomer, and Tommy Robinson.
Unsurprisingly, those who lost their check marks (and it’s important to note they were not suspended from Twitter) were upset.
This was Twitter’s response:
Why its hot
Honestly, this is Twitter’s own fault. Verification started in 2009 and over time verified users were given access to special privileges, including analytics normally only available to advertisers. For years there was no obvious way to apply for a badge; either Twitter reached out to you or you knew someone at the company. This made the badge a symbol of prestige or authority—a status symbol.
And application of the badge was always inconsistent. Milo Yiannopoulos was de-verified in January 2016, yet Twitter verified Kessler? Why?
Twitter’s lax and inconsistent verification process led to the badge being viewed as an endorsement mark and anyone who had one, someone worth following and their opinions worth listening to.
So far, backlash to Twitter recent decision to remove badges has been countered only by those who lost their badges or those agree with the views of those users.But this opens up the discussion to exactly which views will have your badge taken away or your account suspended. Twitter is all over the map when it comes to enforcing their rules. I personally have been suspended for tweeting angrily at the MTA about subway service. Until Twitter creates clear terms of service and enforces them fairly and consistently, these sorts of stories will continue.