On Thursday morning Twitter announced it would pause its verification process indefinitely. The move came amid an explosion of criticism over the social network’s decision to verify Jason Kessler, a white supremacist who organized the Unite the Right rally last August in Charlottesville that resulted in the death of counterprotester Heather Heyer.
A tweet from the company’s support account suggested that the verification scandal was a misunderstanding. “Verification was meant to authenticate identity & voice but it is interpreted as an endorsement or an indicator of importance.” Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey apologized for the situation, adding, “We should’ve communicated faster on this (yesterday)” and noting that “we realized some time ago the system is broken and needs to be reconsidered. And we failed by not doing anything about it.”
Twitter users began protesting Kessler’s verification shortly after it became public. For critics of Twitter’s ongoing failure to effectively address the harassment that occurs on its platform, the move was viewed as yet another example that the social network is not taking the appropriate actions to police its platform. Optically, it suggested the opposite: that Twitter was conferring legitimacy and authority to a known white supremacist.
Twitter argues that the decision to verify a user is based on authenticating that user’s identity (and to avoid mix-ups with parody or troll accounts) and is in no way an endorsement of that user. But those protesting Kessler’s verification note that Twitter offers special features and even abuse filters to verified users — a design choice that implies such users are privileged in some way from nonverified users.
The decision to verify Kessler and the fallout over it is just the latest in a long series of decisions that reveals the profound disconnect between Twitter leadership and its users. For the social network’s biggest critics, the debacle affirms the belief that the company still has significant blind spots when it comes to how its users will interpret its actions. And for Twitter, the Kessler situation is yet another setback in its attempt to win back user trust after a decade of inaction.