Twitter has attempted to resume verifying accounts with a clean slate, years after its decision to verify a white nationalist figure outraged users. But its latest efforts to fairly hand out blue checks have tanked.
The microblogging platform accidentally allowed six fake accounts to be verified, all of which were created on June 16, Twitter admitted on Tuesday. It’s not clear exactly how long they were up before they were either falsely verified or taken down, however.
Most of the short-lived blue-checked accounts had not posted so much as a single tweet before they were spotted by self-described data scientist Conspirador Norteño, let alone a photo or other glimmer of authenticity, and those “users” who’d bothered with profile photos at all had seemingly dredged up some stock images for the purpose. Other account pictures were apparently AI-generated, using sites such as thispersondoesnotexist.com. Some images, however, were just anime characters – and cats.
“We mistakenly approved the verification applications of a small number of inauthentic (fake) accounts,” Twitter told tech blog the Daily Dot in a statement on Tuesday, adding that “We have now permanently suspended the accounts in question, and removed their verified badge, under our platform manipulation and spam policy.”
These 976 accounts are part of an astroturf botnet consisting of (at least) 1212 accounts. The network is split into followers, which follow the aforementioned verified accounts as well as other members of the botnet, and followees, which are followed by the other bots. pic.twitter.com/wKKfC2PRX8— Conspirador Norteño (@conspirator0) July 12, 2021
The mistakenly verified accounts had gone to at least nominal lengths to disguise themselves, attempting to conceal their nonexistence by racking up hundreds of followers – though almost all accounts had added the same ‘friends’. Indeed, all the new ‘followers’ accounts had been created on June 19 or June 20, according to @conspirator0, who dug up the scandal. The botnet apparently included about 1,212 accounts in total.
Facebook’s former chief security officer, Alex Stamos, suggested on Twitter that the ‘mistake’ could have been an “inside job,” noting that Instagram had recently been subject to a similar assault. Stamos also noted that many of the account names among the newly arrived Twitter invaders were Turkish, suggesting a potential national link – or at least an attempt to imply one.
In May, Twitter announced verifications would be relaunched only for “notable” and “authentic” users, having shut it down in 2017 after users complained it was “arbitrary and confusing,” apparently mistaking them for “an endorsement or an indicator of importance.” The doling out of blue checks to political figures was a particular source of controversy, with those on the opposite side of the political spectrum howling with anger when their ideological adversaries received the blue check, given its similarity to a congratulatory blue ribbon.
Twitter had specifically nixed the blue checks after Unite the Right organizer Jason Kessler, organizer of the infamous Charlottesville riot, was awarded one in November 2017 – presumably as a significant figure in the news – only for Twitter users to come down screeching on the platform, accusing it of endorsing white supremacy.
The new regulations require accounts to have been active in the past six months, and to fit “one of several criteria: government, companies, brands and organizations, news outlets and journalists, entertainment, sports and gaming, activists, organizers and other influential individuals,” the platform declared in May, adding that it planned to expand into “scientists, academics, and religious leaders” later in the year.
Users hoping to gain the coveted blue check must also have a clean record with regard to rule violations, meaning nothing that had caused them to be locked out of their account for longer than 12 hours within the previous year. A more controversial rule requires users to refrain from “behavior such as harassment or posting content that promote[s] the supremacy of a particular group, both on and off Twitter.”
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