Twitter began banning and removing verified check marks, which were previously handed out to public figures to prove their authenticity, from white supremacist accounts as it updated the rules to its verification program on Wednesday.
White supremacists Richard Spencer and Charlottesville “Unite The Right” protest creator Jason Kessler had their verified statuses revoked on Wednesday.
The verified check mark was meant to denote “that an account of public interest is authentic,” the company said in a series of tweets on Wednesday, but that “verification has long been perceived as an endorsement.”
“This perception became worse when we opened up verification for public submissions and verified people who we in no way endorse,” a company spokesperson tweeted.
Users can now lose their blue checkmarks for “inciting or engaging in harassment of others,” “promoting hate and/or violence against, or directly attacking or threatening other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or disease,” supporting people who promote those ideas, and a slew of other reasons.
The changes come exactly one week after a Daily Beast story showed that Kessler, who had called the death of anti-racist protester Heather Heyer in Charlottesville “payback time,” had been verified by Twitter. The company suspended its verification practices the next day.
“We should’ve communicated faster on this [yesterday]: our agents have been following our verification policy correctly, but we realized some time ago the system is broken and needs to be reconsidered,” Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey wrote last week. “And we failed by not doing anything about it. Working now to fix faster.”
Earlier on Wednesday, Tim Gionet, a far right former BuzzFeed employee who went by the username @BakedAlaska, was banned from Twitter. In his last tweets, he pushed his followers to reinstate an account that was banned from Twitter for, he claimed, “saying muslim immigrants are adding to the rape culture.”
When reached for comment on Gionet’s suspension, a company spokesperson pointed The Daily Beast to its “hateful conduct policy,” specifically the section that bans “repeated and/or or non-consensual slurs, epithets, racist and sexist tropes, or other content that degrades someone.”
Far-right agitator Milo Yiannopoulos’ blue checkmark was removed last January before he was kicked off Twitter, stirring outrage among alt-right and far-right communities. Some fans of Yiannopoulos began flocking to alternative platforms, like alt-right Twitter knockoff Gab or the chat service Discord.
In July 2016 Twitter allowed anyone to request verification via an online form, a move that appears to have overwhelmed the review process. Twitter ended up verifying accounts that it “in no way endorse(s),” the company said.
Until now, Twitter has claimed that verification is neutral and simply a way to verify a person's primary brand handle or identity. However, verified users have long been seen as first-class citizens on the platform. Verified users have access to more robust filters and their tweets and accounts are more likely to be surfaced in search as well as people’s @ mentions.
The decision to remove verified badges over subjective infractions like “harassment” may lead to more controversy, and whether this change reduces the type of harassment that has plagued the platform remains to be seen.
In the meantime, several prominent conservatives say they’re being unfairly targeted.
“Twitter just emailed me to tell me they are removing my ‘verified badge’ because they claim my account ‘doesn’t comply with Twitter’s guidelines for verified accounts.’ Translation: I’m a conservative,” Laura Loomer, a “citizen journalist” and right-wing activist, tweeted on Wednesday.
British far-right activist Tommy Robinson also had his check mark revoked. “The truth is now hate speech,” he tweeted.