Twitter has begun to remove the verification badges for prominent white nationalists and other figures linked to the alt-right, in keeping with a new policy announced today. Among the figures losing their badges today were Jason Kessler, the white supremacist who organized the United the Right rally in Charlottesville in August; Richard Spencer, a prominent white supremacist who also participated in the rally; and Laura Loomer, a right-wing activist who was banned from ride-hailing services after posting an anti-Muslim rant on Twitter.
In another case today, the company banned Tim Gionet, better known as alt-right provocateur Baked Alaska, for unspecified reasons. Twitter typically declines to comment on disciplinary decisions around individual accounts.
Tommy Robinson, former leader of a British anti-Islam group, also lost his blue checkmark. But other prominent figures associated with the alt-right, including Jack Posobiec and Mike Cernovich, still had their badges as of Wednesday afternoon.
In response to questions, the company pointed us to its verification support page, which reads in part: “Twitter reserves the right to remove verification at any time without notice.” Reasons for removing verification can include: “Promoting hate and/or violence against, or 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. Supporting organizations or individuals that promote the above.”
The move toward a new policy began last week after Kessler’s account was verified, a move for which the company later apologized. It has often been unclear what, exactly, verifying an account meant for Twitter. It has variously meant that Twitter has confirmed the identity of the person tweeting; that a user is high profile and eligible to receive extra features and priority support; and that a user has acted within the rules of the platform.
Today, Twitter seemed to promote the third interpretation of verification, suggesting it will remove badges from anyone who violates its rules. But this approach has risks of its own. For one, it suggests anyone without a verified badge has broken the rules. For another, it puts Twitter in the position of evaluating political speech — something likely to cause ugly fights.
Loomer complained about the loss of her badge on Twitter:
Twitter just emailed me to tell me they are removing my “verified badge” because they claim my account “doesn’t comply with Twitter’s guidelines for verified accounts.”
Translation: I’m a conservative. pic.twitter.com/F1AsxWI6Fm
— Laura Loomer (@LauraLoomer) November 15, 2017
The company declined to comment beyond its tweets.