Twitter said it would overhaul its method for verifying users after facing a groundswell of outrage for confirming an avowed white supremacist.
Elected officials, journalists and other public figures on Twitter often feature a blue check mark next to their name, which affirms that they are who they say they are. People can apply for verification by submitting basic identifying information to Twitter.
Earlier this week, it emerged that Twitter had verified the account of Jason Kessler, the leader of a white supremacist demonstration in Charlottesville that spiraled into violence as a driver mowed down counter-protesters and killed 32-year-old Heather Heyer. Kessler disparaged the slain woman on Twitter as a “fat, disgusting Communist” and called her murder “payback time”.
The revelation that Twitter had lent its imprimatur to such a figure unleashed an angry response and, within hours, led the site to issue a statement pledging to temporarily halt new verifications as it reexamine the process.
Hey @jack: very active user, 2.1M followers here: this is disgusting. Verifying white supremacists reinforces the increasing belief that your site is a platform for hate speech. I don’t want to give up Twitter, but I may have to. Who do you value more, users like me or him? https://t.co/5ymcNfFvH0
— Michael Ian Black (@michaelianblack) November 9, 2017
“Verification was meant to authenticate identity & voice but it is interpreted as an endorsement or an indicator of importance”, the site said in a tweet. “We recognize that we have created this confusion and need to resolve it”.
CEO Jack Dorsey added that, while employees had followed the verification system properly, the the system itself was faulty.
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“We realized some time ago the system is broken and needs to be reconsidered”, Mr Dorsey said in a tweet. “And we failed by not doing anything about it. Working now to fix faster”.
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. And we failed by not doing anything about it. Working now to fix faster. https://t.co/wVbfYJntHj
— jack (@jack) November 9, 2017
We should have stopped the current process at the beginning of the year. We knew it was busted as people confuse ID verification with endorsement. Have to fix the system, pausing until we do. https://t.co/HSLbJOG2AN
— Ed Ho (@mrdonut) November 9, 2017
Twitter has not yet responded to questions about what the pause means for the future of the verified status.
Despite Twitter’s swift reaction, the episode will likely amplify criticisms of how the site fails to prevent abuse.
After Charlottesville awakened America to the presence of organised white supremacist groups, Twitter and other tech companies were under scrutiny for how they monitor or efface violent or hateful speech. Multiple companies – including Apple Pay, Cloudflare and PayPal -removed white supremacist organisations from having access to their platform.
Twitter suspended accounts linked to the neo-Nazi site the Daily Stormer. Last month, it said it would expand its prohibition on violent speech beyond direct threats to encompass glorifying or promoting violence.