San Francisco, California, USA: John Kessler, the organizer of the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville in August is among those affected by new guidelines for verified accounts announced by Twitter on Wednesday, one week after the company was harshly criticized for giving him the coveted blue checkmark. Shortly after the policy change was announced, the company also de-verified the accounts of the far-right activist Laura Loomer, the English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson, and others.
Twitter explained how users can lose their verified status under the new guidelines.
“We are conducting an initial review of verified accounts and will remove verification from accounts whose behavior does not fall within these new guidelines,” the company wrote on Twitter.
The violations include misleading users on Twitter, as well as promoting hate and harassing others, among other types of behavior that violate Twitter’s rules.
“Twitter reserves the right to remove verification at any time without notice,” reads the new rule. “Previously verified accounts may not be eligible to have badges restored.”
The company had “paused” granting new verifications on 9 November in response to the outcry over Kessler, and said Wednesday that the program would remain on hold while it worked on a “new authentication and verification program”.
On 19 October, the company rolled out a timeline for policy updates intended to “make Twitter a safer place”. It updated its rules to ban more objectionable content, such as hate symbols, unwanted sexual advances, and non-consensual nudity, and has pledged to improve its systems for issues such as reporting abuse or appealing suspensions.
“Verification has long been perceived as an endorsement,” the company wrote on Twitter. “We gave verified accounts visual prominence on the service which deepened this perception. We should have addressed this earlier but did not prioritize the work as we should have.”
In July 2016, the company began allowing members of the public to apply for verification. While the change was welcomed by many, it also created the impression that users like Spencer had earned the company’s stamp of approval.
“This perception became worse when we opened up verification for public submissions and verified people who we in no way endorse,” the company said.
Kessler took credit for the policy change via his newly unverified Twitter account, writing: “Twitter has changed their verification just to be able to censor me.”
Twitter’s policy states clearly that verification “does not imply an endorsement by Twitter”, but the fact that Twitter can remove the checkmark based on an account’s behavior or content will probably reinforce the perception that it does imply an endorsement.
Twitter’s moves signal a shift in how it perceives verification. The company had previously stuck to its position that it verifies users not as an endorsement but to show that “an account of public interest is authentic.”
EARLIER : HeatherHeyer : Twitter Pauses Verifications After JasonKessler Badge Outrage – Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey says the social media giant is halting its entire general verification program following widespread outrage, after Twitter verified notorious white supremacist, Jason Kessler’s account – the blue verification badge – on Tuesday afternoon.
John Kessler organized the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia earlier this year. John Kessler also later described the woman who was killed at the Unite the Right march, Heather Heyer, as a “fat disgusting Communist,” before adding that it was right to troll her posthumously.
It was right to troll Heather Heyer. I media was depicting a marty, not a human being. Iconoclasm serves a purpose.: Jason Kessler (@TheMadDimension) September 18, 2017
John Kessler was later physically attacked when he tried to give a a press conference in front of Charlottesville City Hall in Charlottesville, Virginia, August 13, 2017, following the car attack in Charlottesville.
Jack Dorsey Twitter CEO : “Verification was meant to authenticate identity & voice but it is interpreted as an endorsement or an indicator of importance. We recognize that we have created this confusion and need to resolve it. We have paused all general verifications while we work and will report back soon”
Twitter Support: “Verification was meant to authenticate identity & voice but it is interpreted as an endorsement or an indicator of importance. We recognize that we have created this confusion and need to resolve it. We have paused all general verifications while we work and will report back soon”
John Kessler capitalized on the outrage over his verification, taking advantage of the increased attention to stoke the flames of racial division even further.
Is it okay to be white? : Jason Kessler (@TheMadDimension) November 8, 2017
Twitter was critisized by some of its more influential users for perceived hypocrisy and hand-wringing in the face of a clearly problematic verification process.
Twitter’s own verification page demonstrates that @jack and @TwitterSupport are lying about verification. It’s explicitly about importance. :Jamison Foser (@jamisonfoser) November 9, 2017
Hi @Twitter, Hope you realize there’s no such thing as being neutral when it comes to Nazis. Verifying Jason Kessler is a political act — and one that puts you on the wrong side of history : Simran Jeet Singh (@SikhProf) November 9, 2017
The social media site has been accused of courting controversial figures before, drawing ire from its general user base as a result. Notorious troll Milo Yiannopoulos eventually had his account deactivated in July after a litany of alleged abuses.
You verified Richard Spencer : Ladies Jacket Club (@subtlerbutler) November 9, 2017
“It’s recognition. It’s a simple as that,” Richard Spencer, a white supremacist verified by Twitter in 2016, said in an interview, was cited by media outlets. “The blue checkmark is useful.” Richard Spencer concluded.
Twitter temporarily removed the blue check from outspoken conservative activist Laura Loomer for alleged Islamophobia… before backtracking.
Muslims are out in full force at the scene of the NYC #ISIS attack today rubbing it in everyone’s face. Aimlessly walking around in hijabs. : Laura Loomer (@LauraLoomer) November 1, 2017
Twitter told me if I thought their email was an error I could reply to them and tell them why. I didn’t make any threats. Islam and Muslim are not a race, so my tweets are not racist. And, I didn’t incite violence. So, what’s the problem? Here is my reply to twitter. : Laura Loomer (@LauraLoomer) November 9, 2017
Even US President Donald Trump’s supposed abuse of the social media platform’s terms of service has been tacitly allowed, much to the chagrin of his opponents both at home and abroad.
Hey @Twitter, is threatening nuclear war not a violation of terms of service? : Kal Penn (@kalpenn) August 11, 2017
Twitter also suspended actor Rose McGowan’s account for a brief period after she came forward with allegations of sexual harassment against Harvey Weinstein. A hashtag campaign swiftly saw her reinstated, but added yet another faux pas to Twitter’s list of recent transgressions among the online online community.
TWITTER HAS SUSPENDED ME. THERE ARE POWERFUL FORCES AT WORK. BE MY VOICE. #ROSEARMY #whywomendontreportA post shared by Rose McGowan (@rosemcgowan) on Oct 11, 2017 at 9:19pm PDT
We have been in touch with Ms. McGowan’s team. We want to explain that her account was temporarily locked because one of her Tweets included a private phone number, which violates our Terms of Service. 1/3 :Twitter Safety (@TwitterSafety) October 12, 2017
either twitter HQ is filled with the most oblivious people alive or some of them actively sympathize with Nazis. Which is it, Jack? Why is Spencer verified? : Jules N. Binoculars hang from the head of the mule (@surfbordt) November 9, 2017
I’m gonna bet it’s the latter – tech world is rife with fascist male douchebaggery. See also Damore, James: Nandini (@nandelabra) November 9, 2017
Of course, I’m an award-winning Jewish journalist, and didn’t start a White Nationalist riot that got someone killed, so I can see how I was overlooked. :Max Sparber Jeez There Are a Lot of Nazis on Twitt (@maxsparber) November 9, 2017
Yeah, but it’s interesting who you choose to verify. I’ve been turned down three times: Erin Maher (@theerinmaher) November 9, 2017
Others defended the decision to verify Kessler’s account, among other controversial figures, by citing the right to free speech and the importance of allowing people to express their beliefs, however distasteful, to generate debate in the free market of ideas online.
And? You may not like him, I may not like him, it doesn’t mean that he shouldn’t be verified. You can’t say that he’s not influential or important: Inky (@1nkybinky) November 9, 2017
That’s not how any of this works. Let those you disagree with speak, so that you know you disagree with them and can more readily convince others of their “wrongness” – that’s how free speech works. #1A : TJ (@trejrco) November 9, 2017
Yes, why don’t people in this country understand what the 1st amendment is all about !: Davidson (@VikkyDavidson) November 9, 2017
The social media giant has faced a series of high profile issues in recent weeks. Just last Thursday (Nov 2) an exiting employee deactivated US President Donald Trump’s Twitter account, a key tool in his public relations machine. However, it’s worth noting that Twitter has recently doubled its character limit to 280, affording people the ability to express themselves in longer, less-truncated diatribes than ever before.
Twitter says it is is “continuing to investigate and are taking steps to prevent this from happening again”