Late Wednesday, the official Twitter Support account announced big changes to the murky rules concerning which accounts get verified with a bright blue check mark on the site, and which don’t. The new guidelines come just a week after it verified Jason Kessler, the organiser behind August’s deadly neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
After facing widespread criticism for verifying a man who was literally run out of town for the harm his rally of intolerance caused, Twitter halted all new verifications, and is now claiming to be working on establishing rules which means some remove verification on currently verified accounts.
“We’re working on a new authentication and verification program,” the Support account tweeted. “We are conducting an initial review of verified accounts and will remove verification from accounts whose behaviour does not fall within these new guidelines.” True to the company’s history of botching basic tasks (like not tacitly endorsing neo-Nazis), the Support tweets were threaded incorrectly.
“Verification has long been perceived as an endorsement. We gave verified accounts visual prominence on the service which deepened this perception,” Twitter noted, finally acknowledging what users have long known. “This perception became worse when we opened up verification for public submissions and verified people who we in no way endorse.” The decision to open up verification, it should be noted, took place well over a year ago.
So far the new list of actions that can lead to loss of verification include a lot of basic behaviours that are already covered by the platform’s community guidelines, like harassment, encouraging violence, posting shocking imagery, promoting hate, and finally: “Engaging in activity on Twitter that violates the Twitter Rules.” When asked why Twitter would de-verify an account for these infractions rather than suspend or ban it—or what these forthcoming guidelines might consist of—a Twitter spokesperson told Gizmodo that “we don’t have anything to share at the moment beyond the Tweets we just sent.”
Twitter has already stripped a number of accounts of their badges, citing their new guidelines on loss of verified status. Asked for comment, the site did not identify who had lost their badges, but a number of Twitter’s most prominent far-right figures and white supremacist personalities seem to have been demoted.
The most prominent is Richard B. Spencer, the notorious racist activist behind the National Policy Institute, who asked in a tweet after losing verification whether it was no longer “okay to be proudly white?” Other semi-prominent users to lose verification included Laura Loomer, the self-declared investigative journalist banned from Uber and Lyft for complaining about supposedly Muslim drivers, and James Allsup, the former Washington State University College Republicans president who resigned after attending a violent neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Tim “Baked Alaska” Gionet, a neo-Nazi-adjacent web personality notorious even among other far-right Twitter users for his willingness to engage in pointlessly stupid stunts, earned himself a permanent ban. As documented by IJR’s Josh Billinson, he then journeyed to a local fast food restaurant where he began screaming at random passersby.
A few other far-right accounts appear to have lost verification, none of which are particularly noteworthy but included @BrittanyVenti, @TRobinsonNewEra, and @apurposefulwife. Some of the accounts in question immediately began insinuating that those on the left cheering their loss of status could be next, though that certainly would seem to be speculation.
Given that Twitter’s core problem is not the absence of rules, but the lack of consistency with which it enforces them, verification changes—and the users who are likely to have that status revoked—are likely to bring more headaches for an already embroiled company. Good luck, folks.