Twitter says it won't verify new candidates until they win their primaries

Twitter says it won't verify new candidates until they win their primaries

Twitter says it will not verify any new congressional or gubernatorial candidates running in the 2020 cycle on its platform until they win their primaries. 

The policy, which a Twitter spokesperson told The Hill on Tuesday is a continuation of the tech giant’s practices in the 2018 midterms, is intended to recognize the seriousness a candidate receives by being verified. However, it comes amid warnings that foreign operatives have in the past sought to impersonate political candidates.

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“We appreciate that Twitter is an important tool for politicians to communicate to the electorate, and that verification is an important contextual signal for the public - which is why we've been very intentional and thoughtful about this policy,” the spokesperson told The Hill.

“While the public verification form is on hold, our teams around the world continue to verify select Twitter accounts, which include elected officials and government agencies. In the US, once candidates win their primary elections and/or qualify for the general election ballot for Congressional, Senate or Gubernatorial races we will verify their official Twitter accounts.”

The spokesperson noted that impersonation of any person violates Twitter’s rules regardless of if someone is verified.

Twitter paused its “general verifications” program in 2017 following criticism of the company verifying the account associated with the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va.

“Verification was meant to authenticate identity & voice but it is interpreted as an endorsement or an indicator of importance,” the platform said at the time.

CNN was the first to report the continuation of the policy into the 2020 cycle after obtaining emails between a staff member for Twitter's government relations team and a congressional campaign staffer. 

Ray Buckley, the chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, criticized Twitter's policy.

“We are very troubled to hear that they're unwilling to do it in the primary,” Buckley, who last month claimed a fake account was created to impersonate New Hampshire Democrats, told CNN. “They should know that they're being used to disseminate misinformation and character assassination.”

He disagreed with the perception that verification is seen as an endorsement from the tech giant, adding “If my interpretation is correct, all candidates should be verified as to limit the possibility of fake accounts from having any impact on an election.” 

A troll farm linked with the Kremlin in 2016 oversaw thousands of social media accounts impersonating activists and organizations in the U.S. The threat intelligence firm FireEye said in a report last May that it identified several Iranian-run accounts posing as Americans and espousing political views across the spectrum. The accounts included some who imitated Republicans running for the House in the 2018 midterm cycle. 

Twitter doubled down, saying its rules prohibit any interference in the election regardless of verification status.

“Our rules prohibit manipulating or interfering in the election process, including posting or sharing content that may suppress voter turnout or mislead people about when, where, or how to vote,” the spokesperson told The Hill.

“Our rules also now address key issues impacting the integrity of elections, including: (1) fake accounts engaged in a variety of malicious behaviors, (2) removing accounts that deliberately mimic or are intended to replace accounts we have previously suspended for violating our rules, and (3) the distribution of hacked material that contains private information or trade secrets, or could put people in harm’s way.”