Twitter facing criticism for verifying white supremacist organiser

10 Nov 2017

Twitter mobile app. Image: Sattalat phukkum/Shutterstock

Twitter’s verification process is under a magnifying glass as critics cite treatment of known white supremacists.

On Tuesday 7 November, Twitter unleashed a barrage of complaints after it verified the account of Jason Kessler, indicating his prominence in the public sphere.

The company was blasted for verifying Kessler, a known white supremacist who used the platform to spread his ethos and organise rallies such as the Charlottesville Unite The Right event in August, which resulted in the death of counter-protester Heather Heyer.

When The Daily Beast reached out to Twitter for comment, the company directed journalists to its verification policies, explaining that a blue tick is awarded when an account is deemed “of public interest”.

A vague policy

While this sounds straightforward on paper, Twitter’s own adherence to these policies is fuzzy at best.

If verification is seemingly just to identify public figures as opposed to lending them an air of superiority, then why, for example, did the firm remove Milo Yiannopoulos’ verification rather than banning him outright earlier last year?

Kessler had deleted his account previously after insulting the late Heyer’s appearance and linking to extreme neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer.

He received verification just 26 days after Twitter rolled out its much-heralded calendar of changes to fix the rampant and ugly harassment issues within the site.

White nationalist Richard Spencer is also verified.

Confusion around Twitter verification

Twitter said its verification process is meant to “authenticate identify and voice” but is today interpreted as an endorsement or an indicator of importance, and it is pausing all general verifications while the company tries to resolve the matter.

CEO Jack Dorsey and general manager of consumer product at Twitter, Ed Ho, both responded to the uproar.

Dorsey admitted: “We realised some time ago the system is broken and needs to be reconsidered.”

Ho agreed that the company was too slow in its response.

He also put a question to users about how best the verification process could be altered in the future.

Twitter mobile app. Image: Sattalat phukkum/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects