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20 Aug, 2018 17:34

Twitter verification of NYT’s ‘racist’ Sarah Jeong sparks online outrage, accusations of hypocrisy

Twitter verification of NYT’s ‘racist’ Sarah Jeong sparks online outrage, accusations of hypocrisy

Twitter has been accused of having double standards after a decision to ‘verify’ the controversial New York Times reporter Sarah Jeong with the coveted blue tick, despite her record of making ‘racist’ comments about white people.

Jeong, who has been on Twitter since 2009, only received the blue tick after she was hired by the Times, despite outrage after a series of past tweets re-emerged in which she ranted about “dumbass f*cking white people” and admitted she enjoys “being cruel to old white men” — as well as a slew of other derogatory comments aimed at “white people”.

Earlier this month, the Times was forced to publicly defend its decision to hire the Asian-American Jeong after the tweets sparked controversy online. In a statement, the Times said that while it did “not condone” her past speech, Jeong had simply been “imitating the rhetoric of of her harassers” and that she now understood her past approach was wrong. The paper also said it was confident Jeong would be “an important voice” going forward. Jeong herself defended her tweets, claiming she saw them as “counter-trolling” against some of the abuse she had personally received from other users on the platform.

But Twitter’s decision to bestow the blue check mark on the tech reporter was a step too far for some people, who pointed out that if a white person had made similar comments about black or asian people, for example, they would never have been hired by the paper of record in the first place.

Twitter has always said that the blue verified check marks do not signal the company’s endorsement of users, but in recent months, as the platform has begun to remove the tick and ‘un-verify’ various accounts owned by figures on the right, it has become clear that the check is in fact a form of endorsement or condemnation.

Similarly, the fact that a figure like WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has never been verified by Twitter — despite being a figure of huge public significance — is another decision serving to indicate that Twitter is indeed making political decisions when it comes to verifying (or not verifying) many of its high profile users.

Jeong’s verification by Twitter was all the more galling to the company’s critics given that it came after Twitter suspended the controversial conservative Alex Jones after he posted a video in which he called on his supporters to ready their "battle rifles" after facing simultaneous banning from Facebook, Spotify, Apple and YouTube.

Jeong’s verification and Jones’ suspension prompted users to question Twitter’s methodology for verifying public figures, as well as sarcastic questions about whether abusing white people on Twitter was in fact deemed acceptable by the social media giant, while abusing black people was seen as off limits.

Further adding to the sense that offensive speech is no problem — so long as the targets are white people — was the fact that a fellow Times journalist was seemingly forced to delete a tweet in which she appeared to criticize Jeong’s hiring.

Responding to a column written by the newspaper’s Bret Stephens, which welcomed Jeong to the Times, Williamson tweeted that Stephens had offered a classy welcome to Jeong, despite the fact that she had “yet to prove she deserves one”.

Shortly after, Williamson deleted the tweet and apologized, saying it was “inappropriate” — prompting speculation that direction had come from higher up to warn the Times staff to publicly stand by Jeong, despite the controversy surrounding her hiring.

Twitter has faced criticism in recent weeks as an investigation revealed that the platform was “shadowbanning” some high profile conservative users, making their tweets less prominent on their followers’ feeds and making the accounts harder to find when people searched for them.