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Twitter pauses verification process after controversy over Charlottesville organizer

Twitter pauses verification process after controversy over Charlottesville organizer

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

After widespread criticism over its decision to verify the account of Jason Kessler, an organizer behind the far-right Unite the Right protest, Twitter said it has “paused” its verification process while it works on a new system.

“Verification was meant to authenticate identity & voice but it is interpreted as an endorsement or an indicator of importance,” the company said in a tweet. “We recognize that we have created this confusion and need to resolve it. We have paused all general verifications while we work and will report back soon.”

CEO Jack Dorsey also sent out a tweet, saying “we realized some time ago the system is broken and needs to be reconsidered.”

Twitter offers a blue checkmark to accounts that it has verified as authentic. Kessler, who describes himself on Twitter as a “freelance journalist” contributing to far-right publications, announced his verification by the service on Tuesday. “Looks like I FINALLY got verified by Twitter,” Kessler, who displays a Confederate flag on his page, wrote on Twitter, where he has more than 13,000 followers. “I must be the only working class white advocate with that distinction.”

Soon after Charlottesville, Kessler used Twitter to attack the woman killed at the rally, Heather Heyer.

“Heather Heyer was a fat, disgusting Communist,” Kessler wrote, linking to the Neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer. “Communists have killed 94 million. Looks like it was payback time.”

Several high-profile Twitter users were quick to criticize the verification decision, as many pointed out that Twitter recently announced a move to crack down on “hate symbols” and “violent groups.”

The company has faced scrutiny over its decisions on verification before. It has verified other far-right users, such as the alt-right personality Richard Spencer, while last year it removed verification from an account used by Milo Yiannopoulos.

On an informational page about verified accounts, Twitter writes that the company verifies accounts that are “of public interest,” although it says “a verified badge does not imply an endorsement by Twitter.” The company’s latest statement, however, suggests it’s re-thinking that line of reasoning.