Twitter recently suspended its account verification process after it received flak for giving the blue tick to a right-wing extremist.
However, there seems to be some form of left wing bias from the micro-blogging site.
Twitter has suspended its account verification process — a process that gives public figures on the micro-blogging platform a blue check mark next to their names. The announcement came in following a backlash when the account belonging to the organiser of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that left one dead in August was given the 'blue tick', TechCrunch reported today (10 November).
Jason Kessler, the organiser of the rally, was given the blue badge. Twitter had earlier withheld blue check mark for whistleblower and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
A tweet from the micro-blogging site’s support handle confirmed this, and stated that verification had changed from signifying an authentic profile to signifying or endorsing a person’s importance.
Verification was meant to authenticate identity & voice but it is interpreted as an endorsement or an indicator of importance. 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— Twitter Support (@TwitterSupport) November 9, 2017
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey too tweeted on the matter saying that the system was broken and needed fixing.
We should’ve communicated faster on this (yesterday): our agents have been following our verification policy correctly, but we realized some time ago the system is broken and needs to be reconsidered. And we failed by not doing anything about it. Working now to fix faster. https://t.co/wVbfYJntHj— jack (@jack) November 9, 2017
An online application process was launched in 2016 for Twitter accounts to receive verified status, which allows people to identify key individuals and organisations on Twitter as authentic and are denoted by a blue tick icon. This typically includes accounts maintained by public figures and organisations in music, TV, film, fashion, government, politics, religion, media, sports, business and other key interest areas.
However, that is not all. In the past, Twitter has been accused of a leftist bias when it came to verifying accounts, and this has carried on to the Indian Twitterati as well.
On it’s support page, Twitter says that lays down a critera based on which it verifies accounts:
We approve account types maintained by users in music, acting, fashion, government, politics, religion, journalism, media, sports, business, and other key interest areas. If you believe your account is of public interest and should be verified, this article outlines information about submitting a request.
In an article published by The Sunday Guardian in 2016, columnist and author Anand Ranganathan pointed out what he termed as very “alarming trend” being set by Twitter, where people and personalities perceived to have left-leaning ideologies were more likely to be verified than those with right-leaning ideologies. Citing the example of Rakesh Sinha, an RSS ideologue with over 1.5 lakh followers but no blue tick, he said that these accounts were also more liable to get suspended. Indeed, Sinha did get suspended over a tweet where he talked about Pakistani soldiers mutilating the bodies of Indian soldiers. He also gave examples of eminent journalists such as Gaurav C Sawant, Sucheta Dalal and Surjit Bhalla who had not been verified. Of these three, only Sawant now has a blue tick next to his profile. Swarajya’s Editorial Director R Jagannathan, former editor-in-chief of FirstPost, Forbes India and Money Control, with over 1.1 lakh followers, too has not been verified.
Other prominent members of the right-wing such as Madhu Kishwar and current Prasar Bharati CEO, too faced such problems.
A reddit discussion shows that people working with platforms such as BuzzFeed like Rega Jha get a verified in no time.
As far as its bias is concerned, Twitter India has not been very transparent, going so far as to arbitrarily suspend handles belonging to members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidhyarthi Parishad (ABVP) and only restoring them after a public backlash. While Twitter is well within its right to do so, the lack of transparency involved is disturbing.
At the same time, several leftist accounts, many of whom have been gleeful over the murders of journalists and RSS workers have gone unchecked.
The matter isn’t restricted to India alone. In 2016, USA Today reported on Twitter’s inaction towards abuse received by Conservatives in the United States as well. Twitter’s stock plunge in mid-2016 was also linked by many to its actions that saw many Conservatives being kicked off the platform. The bias extends to the fact that Twitter turned down an advertisement from Donald Trump’s campaign last year because they ‘didn’t want to run anti-Hillary ads’. It didn’t seem better when the micro-blogging platform later on admitted to censoring hashtags critical of Clinton during the election in a recent Senate hearing either.