Tuesday 17 July 2018

Outrage as Twitter verifies organiser of Charlottesville white supremacist rally

Twitter app (Andrew Matthews/PA)
Twitter app (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Jeremy B White

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.

“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.

Twitter boss Jack Dorsey
Twitter boss Jack Dorsey

“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.

“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”.

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.

Heather Heyer died after a car rammed into a group of counter-protesters at a white nationalist march in Charlottesville, Virginia. Pic: GoFundMe
Heather Heyer died after a car rammed into a group of counter-protesters at a white nationalist march in Charlottesville, Virginia. Pic: GoFundMe

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