Last night I was perusing my Twitter feed when I saw someone had retweeted white supremacist Richard Spencer, who was protesting the fact that he had lost his blue checkmark.
Verified no more! Is it not okay to be proudly White? 🤷🏻♂️
— Richard ❄️ Spencer (@RichardBSpencer) November 15, 2017
Turns out it wasn’t a mistake, and Spencer wasn’t the only one. Twitter had hastily issued a revision of their verification policy and gone through and purged a number of accounts of their verified status, consisting pretty much entirely of, “white nationalists and far-right activists.” (Fox News)
Twitter on Wednesday removed the “verification” checkmarks from the accounts of a number of white nationalists and far-right activists — in a move that critics say could have a chilling effect on free speech.
The move came one week after the company drew criticism for verifying the account of Jason Kessler, the open white nationalist who organized the infamous Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., in August.
In recent weeks Twitter has cracked down on the accounts of multiple controversial personalities and issued new guidelines regarding its account verification and de-verification.
For those of you who aren’t familiar, Twitter issues a blue checkmark on certain accounts which indicate that the owner of the account has been “verified” as being the person they claim to be. I’ve been through the process myself, as have all the regular editors here at Hot Air as well as many of our colleagues at other Salem properties. The company’s excuse for doing this immediately sounded a bit off.
In a brief statement, Twitter said, “Verification has long been perceived as an endorsement. 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.”
What does that even mean? Even if some people “perceived” verification as an endorsement, the only thing which really matters is what the company meant by it. Trust me, I’ve never personally felt “endorsed” by Twitter, but they had no issue with verifying me. And as I said, having been through the process, I can assure you that I was never asked if my opinions were in keeping with those of Twitter’s management or any other matters of ideological leanings. They simply wanted to know if I was who I said I was.
To be fair, there is another layer to the process. Twitter also used to ask something along the lines of why people might recognize you, where they would know you from, etc. It’s not difficult to find links to any of my published columns or clips from a few television appearances I’ve made, so that probably satisfied them. But I also never saw that as an “endorsement” of any sort, but rather a way to prioritize all the requests they receive.
I suppose there are some advantages to having the blue checkmark. Twitter embeds a feature where you can filter your feed to only show verified accounts. There are a lot of high traffic users who employ that tool just to cut down on the spam, so you’re probably more likely to be “seen” by them if you have one. But that’s a choice made by the user, not a policy enforced by the company.
In the end, verification on Twitter was obviously intended to let users searching for the account of a particular person (particularly those who are more famous in one field or another) know if they’ve found the actual individual or some parody account or perhaps just someone with a similar name. In that light, having established his identity, it seems that Richard Spencer was just as worthy of verification as anyone else. Degrading his account in this fashion seems to be more of a punitive move, signaling that the company doesn’t approve of his opinions rather than questioning whether or not he was actually the Richard Spencer.
If someone is breaking the law (and the terms of service) by actively threatening other users and causing real harm, the answer is obviously to cancel the account. But as it stands, Twitter obviously feels that Spencer can still spout his opinions on their platform, but not with the implication that they “endorsed” him. And by choosing to strictly go after people from one ideological camp (no matter how hateful some of the speech in question may be), the company has reinforced the idea that they would prefer to be a liberal echo chamber.
This was poorly handled all the way around, and Jack should reconsider this move quickly.