Richard Spencer and Tommy Robinson lose Twitter verified status

New guidelines for account verification announced

English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson has been de-verified by Twitter.

English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson has been de-verified by Twitter.

 

Twitter announced new guidelines for verified accounts on Wednesday, one week after the company was harshly criticised for granting the coveted blue checkmark to Jason Kessler, the organiser of the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville in August.

“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.

Among the behaviours that will result in the revocation of verification are “promoting hate and/or violence”, supporting hate groups, “inciting or engaging in harassment of others”.

Shortly after the policy change was announced, the company de-verified the accounts of the white nationalist Richard Spencer, the far-right activist Laura Loomer, the English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson, and others.

The company had “paused” granting new verifications on the 9th of November in response to the outcry over Mr Kessler, and said on Wednesday that the programme would remain on hold while it worked on a “new authentication and verification” programme.

Twitter’s announcement of the new policy comes amid a host of changes at the social media company, which has for years focused on appealing to new users while largely ignoring complaints about rampant harassment from its relatively small but loyal user base.

Timeline

On the 19th of 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.

US white nationalist leader Richard Spencer.
US white nationalist leader Richard Spencer.

Twitter’s verification has for years been a source of confusion. The blue checkmark was initially granted only to high-profile public figures, organisations, and journalists, and was useful in ensuring that people knew that @realdonaldtrump was, in fact, the real Donald Trump, while @DonaldTrump

was not.

“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.

Confusion

Adding to the confusion was the fact that Twitter did de-verify the rightwing troll Milo Yiannopoulos in January, 2016 (they subsequently banned him permanently in July, 2016), without providing a clear explanation of what the new policy was.

Mr 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 new approach to verification will probably open up an entirely new can of worms for a company already facing pressure from the US Congress over its role in a Russian influence campaign to affect the 2016 presidential election.

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.

The company did not immediately respond to questions from the Guardian about how it plans to implement the new policies, such as the number of violations required for a de-verification, or whether users will be warned before they lose their blue tick.

- Guardian