Now, bad behavior anywhere online may be enough to downgrade a user to “unchecked.”
Twitter’s “verification” system is used to confirm accounts of celebrities and other accounts of “public interest.” However, the feature has long straddled a blurry line between identity confirmation and “elite” user status, especially since verified accounts receive heightened visibility and perks such as content filters. That issue returned to the headlines last week when Twitter gave a blue check mark to white nationalist Jason Kessler. Kessler is best known as an organizer of the Unite The Right white-supremacist rally, but before then, he had racked up a significant record of online hate propagation, particularly with anti-Semitic rhetoric about “cultural Marxism.”
After receiving public backlash, Twitter froze its verification system to review the process. On Wednesday, a new rules page was rolled out to explain how accounts can lose their verified status. In short: if users don’t prescribe to certain Twitter guidelines, even on public sites other than Twitter, they can kiss their blue check marks goodbye.
Those guidelines are mostly in line with the rules already in place at Twitter, including direct harassment (or “incitement” thereof) and promoting “hate and/or violence.” Twitter also now advises its verified users to avoid “misleading” actions. Examples include radically changed usernames and if “changes to the profile settings modify the account’s original purpose.”
“Verification has long been perceived as an endorsement,” Twitter wrote on its official profile on Wednesday. “We gave verified accounts visual prominence on the service which deepened this perception. We should have addressed this earlier but did not prioritize the work as we should have. This perception became worse when we opened up verification for public submissions and verified people who we in no way endorse.”
This is as close as Twitter comes to making a statement about Kessler’s account, but the language used does not specifically name him or his content.
In the short term, Twitter will keep its verification system frozen while finalizing its “new authentication and verification program.”
Twitter opened the doors to an unclear understanding about verified accounts in January of 2016, when it removed its blue check mark from a former Breitbart staffer’s account as a response to hate and harassment campaigns. Wednesday’s rules change appears to line up with that un-verification. However, adding an “outside-of-Twitter” clause creates an entirely new moderation situation. Now, users with good and bad intentions alike may begin attaching all matter of content to a report in hopes of changing Twitter’s tune about a verified account.