On Friday morning, Jeff Sites, a challenger to Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, didn’t have a blue verification badge on his official Twitter page. Sites had announced his campaign months earlier, so he should have been verified months ago. It caught the eye of one volunteer named Nancy Levine, who has been monitoring Twitter’s plan to verify all 2020 candidates, and has been lobbying Twitter on Sites’ behalf specifically.
After speaking with Levine, The Verge contacted Twitter to inquire about the nature of the delay; within hours, the candidate was verified.
Still, the Sites situation illustrates the ongoing messiness of Twitter’s verification process, which the platform touts as a key tool in preventing disinformation. Twitter says it has verified 822 candidates since it unveiled the 2020 plan in December, yet still relies on people like Levine, who has no ties to any campaign, to prod them into action.
Here’s how the process is supposed to work: Ballotpedia verifies that a candidate is legitimate, either by the candidate contacting them, or reaching out to the campaign. Once Ballotpedia has verified the candidate, it adds them to a list of candidates provided to Twitter on a weekly basis. Twitter is supposed to then double-check the information and give the candidate the blue check mark.
Levine has been keeping an eye on which 2020 candidates are verified and not, and reached out to The Verge Friday morning to point out Sites was still not verified, even though his primary election is coming up on March 17th. Levine has become a watchdog of sorts for candidates’ Twitter badges.
She says she’s contacted reporters and people at Twitter directly about more than a dozen 2020 candidates, many of whom are quickly verified following her inquiries. Levine, who leans toward Democratic candidates, says she has not seen any evidence of bias against one party; she found Republicans and Democrats awaiting Twitter’s verification, sometimes several weeks after the candidate’s Ballotpedia page was complete.
Levine has a history of this sort of rabble-rousing, first entering the public eye by trying to convince New York Times to update a decade-old story about a woman who ran an unregistered pet charity. Margaret Sullivan, who was the Times’ public editor at the time, called Levine “one of the most persistent people I’ve ever come in contact with.”
Levine says she has kept after Twitter about the verification process because she believes it levels the playing field. “Verification of candidates is important, both to confer legitimacy and credibility of candidates — and also to ensure structural advantages on Twitter, e.g., search placement,” Levine writes in an email to The Verge. “In the age of dystopian disinformation, validating candidates and their messaging is more important than ever.”
Twitter admits the rolling process has some lag time between when candidates are registered with Ballotpedia and when Twitter verifies them. Twitter paused its general verification process in 2017, after it was criticized for verifying the account of a white supremacist. The company says the goal in verifying primary candidates is to avoid giving unfair advantage to incumbents in primary races, who usually have higher visibility than challengers.
The election labels, which Twitter introduced in 2018, provide details about what office a candidate is running for, and proved popular with candidates during the midterm elections, Twitter says. Beginning March 3rd, otherwise known as Super Tuesday, the platform will bring back the official election labels for candidates who qualify for the general election.
Verifying candidates is one part of Twitter’s larger mission — sometimes successful, sometimes less so — to prevent misinformation about the 2020 elections from spreading on its platform. Just before the Iowa caucuses, Twitter introduced a tool for US users to report instances of voter suppression. A drop-down menu lets users choose “it’s misleading about a political election” or “it intends to suppress or intimidate someone from voting” as options. And on March 5th, Twitter is expected to unveil its media manipulation policy aimed at curbing the use of fabricated videos and images on the platform.
For its part, Twitter says its goal with verifying primary candidates is to make sure voters have as much accurate, unbiased information about candidates as possible. “Our entire process from its inception — verifying candidates and the election label program — has been focused on being nonpartisan,” said Twitter spokesperson Nicholas Pacilio.