Twitter’s verification process has always been somewhat contentious. Seen by some as a status symbol, problems around the verification process caused Twitter to suspend the process in 2017 (although there have been recent reports of Twitter quietly verifying accounts according to some hidden set of criteria).
Twitter began verifying people back in 2009, after they were sued by St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa following an anonymous user impersonating him online. It quickly became clear that to prevent fraud, Twitter needed some way to prove “accounts of public interest” were who they claimed to be.
The epitome of “public interest” accounts are politicians. We live in a world where the president of the country with the biggest military issues public statements via Twitter. With all the concern around “Russian Influence” operations online, you would think that Twitter would want to make sure that all politicians on their platform were verified (AKA: “protect democracy”).
Yet this is not the case. The South China Morning Post reported last year that “counterfeiters” attempted to create a fake account resembling the Chinese Ambassador to the US, and the account was only removed following the threat of legal action by the Chinese government. Last week, in a followup article, the SCMP reported that the Chinese Ambassador’s twitter account still has not been verified.
Concerns are not limited to those abroad. Here, in the united states, several candidates running for US Federal office have reported they have been unsuccessful in getting twitter to verify their accounts, despite –in some cases – counterfeit accounts appearing.
Twitter @verified is being incredibly unfair and giving a vital material advantage to incumbents. They are picking a side and not being neutral in federal election races. This is incredibly unethical & if this was a problem for the right wing, it would be fixed in a day or less!— 🚛Joshua4️⃣Congress⭐ (@Joshua4Congress) July 8, 2019
It’s not like verifying the accounts would put any undo burden on Twitter - to run for Federal office you already have to be cleared on the FEC, and verifying an account would be as easy as checking a candidate’s contact information on the FEC’s public web page.
With increasing fears of potential election manipulation - both domestic and foreign - it is astounding that Twitter hasn’t taken steps to ensure all federal candidates are verified.
Some candidates are claiming bias is influencing Twitter’s verification decisions, and that by failing to verify candidates in the primaries, Twitter is helping incumbents stay in office.
🚨TWITTER IS GIVING INCUMBENT CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATES AN ADVANTAGE OVER CHALLENGERS.— 🚛Joshua4️⃣Congress⭐ (@Joshua4Congress) July 8, 2019
💩They refuse to verify ANY candidate who is challenging an incumbent!
I need you guys to
☑️REPLY & TAG JOURNALISTS https://t.co/rcM9B8iOOq
There are financial incentives for Twitter to favor incumbents: According to the website OpenSecrets, Twitter spent over $1 million lobbying in 2018, a number it has quickly made back thanks to the astronomical amounts Democrats have been spending to advertise there - already over $2.5 million for 2020 elections.
It’s not hard to guess what those lobbying dollars went towards: There have been mounting concerns over the role of big-tech in American society.
Gonna keep it 💯: The biggest threats to journalism right now are tech monopolies & concentration of ownership.— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) January 26, 2019
Healthy democracy *requires* high-quality journalism.
W/o a wide range of independent outlets & the revenue to sustain them, our democracy will continue to crumble.
For the time being Twitter seems content to let US election security slide into chaos.
HEY NOW EVERYONE *** I AM ACTUALLY THE REAL JOSHUA *** THESE OTHER ACCOUNTS ARE FAKES ** UNFOLLOW THEM AND FOLLOW ME— Joshua Collins? (@Joshua2Congress) July 9, 2019
I'm socialist trucker pic.twitter.com/rbGub37eZ9— Not Joshua Collins (@NotJoshua2020) July 7, 2019
- Twitter did not respond to requests for comment.