- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 16, 2017

Twitter has released a new set of rules governing how it goes about awarding its blue “verified” badges to users and has begun stripping the accounts that violate its guidelines after coming under fire last week for giving one to Jason Kessler, the white nationalist who organized the infamous “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The blue check marks are meant to authenticate users of public interest but have become misinterpreted as official endorsements, Twitter acknowledged Wednesday in announcing the policy change.

“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,” Twitter said.

Twitter is working on a new program for authenticating accounts and has stopped accepting public submissions from users seeking verification, the company said.

“We are conducting an initial review of verified accounts and will remove verification from accounts whose behavior does not fall within these new guidelines. We will continue to review and take action as we work towards a new program we are proud of,” Twitter said.

Twitter reserves the right to de-verify users at any time without notice for reasons, including intentionally misleading users, inciting or engaging in harassing, violent or dangerous behavior and “directly attacking or threatening other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability or disease,” according to the guidelines released Wednesday.

Mr. Kessler and some other Twitter users, including fellow white nationalist Richard Spencer and far-right commentator Laura Loomer, were among those stripped of their verified badges in the wake of the policy change Wednesday.

“I’m not sure how they feel I’ve violated even their new policy,” tweeted Mr. Kessler, the 34-year-old architect of the Aug. 12 “Unite the Right” demonstration that descended into chaos after participants including neo-Nazis and white supremacists began clashing with counterprotesters.

“I don’t engage in harassment. I simply stand up for white rights and criticize mass immigration policies,” added Mr. Kessler, who was arrested last month and charged with intent to coerce, intimidate or harass in connection with a recent tweet posted by a Twitter account allegedly under his control.

Twitter began placing the the blue check marks on the accounts of celebrity users in 2009, and earlier this year it began accepting applications from anyone requesting verification.

“A verified badge does not imply an endorsement by Twitter,” according to the company, but “lets people know that an account of public interest is authentic.”

“Typically this includes accounts maintained by users in music, acting, fashion, government, politics, religion, journalism, media, sports, business and other key interest areas,” Twitter explains on its website.

Mr. Kessler received his blue badge last Tuesday, Nov. 7, igniting a firestorm that culminated in the latest round of de-verifications.

“[O]ur agents have been following our verification policy correctly, but we realized some time ago the system is broken and needs to be reconsidered,” Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey conceded last week amid the uproar spurred by verifying Mr. Kessler.

Mr. Spencer, the president of the National Policy Institute think tank and a participant in the August rally, said it was “time for Washington to regulate Silicon Valley” after he lost his verified badge Wednesday. Ms. Loomer, meanwhile, a self-described investigative journalist who was recently banned by ride share companies Uber and Lyft after tweeting several anti-Muslim posts, evoked the Holocaust in response to losing her verified status.

“Using ‘badge politics,’ censoring those who don’t worship twitter’s liberal dictator, & implementing procedures to annihilate conservatives from the Internet?” she said in a tweet Wednesday. “Sounds like twitter is carrying out its own ‘final solution’ for conservatives.”

Twitter boasts around 330 million monthly active users and has previously verified at least 287,000 of them.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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