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10 Nov, 2017 10:29

Twitter lambasted for verifying white supremacist’s account

Twitter lambasted for verifying white supremacist’s account

Twitter has waded deeper still into cultural controversy by verifying Jason Kessler's account on Tuesday afternoon. A notorious white supremacist, it was Kessler who organized the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia earlier this year.

The backlash since Tuesday has been intense, forcing the social media giant to halt its entire general verification program according to CEO Jack Dorsey. The original verification process was designed to authenticate the profiles of celebrities, politicians, journalists and other people who were ostensibly of public interest.

The blue verification badge aimed to eliminate confusion and misunderstandings, when bot or troll accounts tweeted controversial statements on their behalf. For instance, journalists use their company email accounts when applying to be verified, to prove they work for a media outlet. However the process was relaxed recently as verification was opened up to more users, a move which is understood to have led to this latest development.

Kessler is the man who described the woman who was killed at the Unite the Right march, Heather Heyer, as a “fat disgusting Communist,” before adding that it was right to troll her posthumously.

He was later physically attacked when he tried to give a speech following the car attack in Charlottesville.


Kessler capitalized on the outrage over his verification, taking advantage of the increased attention to stoke the flames of racial division even further.

Twitter was quickly put to the sword by some of its more influential users for perceived hypocrisy and hand-wringing in the face of a clearly problematic verification process.

The social media site has been accused of courting controversial figures before, drawing ire from its general user base as a result. Notorious troll Milo Yiannopoulos eventually had his account deactivated in July after a litany of alleged abuses.

“It’s recognition. It’s a simple as that,” Richard Spencer, a white supremacist verified by Twitter in 2016, said in an interview, as cited by The New York Times. “The blue checkmark is useful.”

READ MORE: Twitter no longer believes in 'speaking truth to power' – updated rules

Twitter temporarily removed the blue check from outspoken conservative activist Laura Loomer for alleged Islamophobia… before backtracking.

Even US President Donald Trump’s supposed abuse of the social media platform’s terms of service has been tacitly allowed, much to the chagrin of his opponents both at home and abroad.

Twitter also suspended actor Rose McGowan’s account for a brief period after she came forward with allegations of sexual harassment against Harvey Weinstein. A hashtag campaign swiftly saw her reinstated, but added yet another faux pas to Twitter’s list of recent transgressions among the online online community.


A post shared by Rose McGowan (@rosemcgowan) on

Others defended the decision to verify Kessler’s account, among other controversial figures, by citing the right to free speech and the importance of allowing people to express their beliefs, however distasteful, to generate debate in the free market of ideas online.

The social media giant has faced a series of high profile issues in recent weeks. Just last Thursday (Nov 2) an exiting employee deactivated US President Donald Trump's Twitter account, a key tool in his public relations machine. However, it’s worth noting that Twitter has recently doubled its character limit to 280, affording people the ability to express themselves in longer, less-truncated diatribes than ever before.