Twitter candidate verification issues raise questions about election integrity

Twitter has verified the accounts of at least 10 GOP QAnon candidates. Why don’t some Democratic candidates for U.S. Congress who are on the ballot in November have the blue check mark?

Last week, I wrote for Rantt Media:

“While [at least] 10 QAnon Republican candidates are verified on Twitter, some Democratic candidates are having a hard time getting the blue check.”

A brief recap:

In December last year, Twitter told Politico it would verify all accounts of primary candidates for U.S. Congress and state governor. “‘A significant factor in expanding verification to these races was to ensure a level playing field,’ Twitter spokesperson Nick Pacilio said in an email.”

But as of this writing, Twitter accounts of some candidates who are on the ballot for U.S. Congress in the November general election still don’t have a blue check mark denoting verification.

Why is it important for Twitter to verify candidates’ accounts?

Free and fair elections, the bedrock of democracy, were “under attack” by Russia in 2018, according to U.S. intelligence officials. Evelyn Farkas was deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia from 2012 to 2015. Farkas wrote for the Washington Post about Russian interference in the 2020 elections:

“There is evidence that Russian actors are contributing to these attacks. The same day that right-wing pundits began pumping accusations, newly created Russian Twitter accounts picked them up. Within a day, Russian ‘disinformation clearinghouses’ posted versions of the story. Many of the Twitter accounts boosting attacks have posted in unison, a sign of inauthentic social media behavior.”

What does Twitter’s candidate verification program have to do with election integrity?

Twitter verification of candidates is a powerful safeguard against disinformation and election interference — a distinct vulnerability exposed by the recent Twitter hack, as I detailed for Rantt.

Despite the looming specter of election interference, some Dem candidates who are on the ballot in November have not yet been verified by Twitter.

Twitter had promised that candidates wouldn’t need to to doggedly pursue the social media giant in order to have their accounts verified.

As Politico reported: “Under the plan, the onus will not be on the candidates to seek verification, which gives their Twitter profiles a blue check mark indicating that the company has confirmed their identity. Instead, Twitter will go looking for candidates to verify.”

Gary Wegman is the Democratic Party candidate to represent Pennsylvania’s Ninth District in U.S. Congress. Although he’s on the ballot in November, Twitter is yet to verify his account, with the general election only 97 days away.

Wegman is a member of No Dem Left Behind, a coalition of congressional candidates running in deep red, rural districts. NDLB has recently been in the spotlight, as comedian Sarah Cooper headlined their virtual town halls, and has been boosting candidates, including Wegman.

This week, TwitterGov tweeted that it is “launching new election-related policies & products like Election Labels,” with a link to Twitter’s Elections Integrity post. In it, Twitter says: “Key election stakeholders also have channels to directly escalate any issues or concerns.”

But what are the direct channels to Twitter where candidates who are on the ballot in November can escalate their requests for verification?

Kael Weston is the Dem candidate to represent Utah’s Second Congressional District. His campaign had tried in vain for months to get verified after he advanced to the general election in April.

When asked whether anyone from Twitter had responded to verification requests, Weston’s campaign communications director Julie Bartel told Rantt: “Emphatic no. No one from Twitter ever responded either by email, through Ballotpedia, or on Twitter itself before the account was verified. They were a brick wall of silence.”

Eventually, a public pressure campaign prompted verification of Weston’s account earlier this month. As part of its efforts, Weston’s campaign also emailed TwitterGov at their public — but seemingly guarded — email address: Gov@Twitter.com is a publicly available email address, published on the internet by Twitter.

Lauren Culbertson, Head of U.S Federal Policy at Twitter, told Rantt Media in a LinkedIn Message: “You can email Gov@Twitter.com to inquire on the status of candidate labels.”

Wegman’s campaign told Rantt it has twice emailed Gov@Twitter.com, requesting verification, but to no avail. The campaign has not received any response from Twitter, as of this writing.

I’ve been tweeting TwitterGov’s contact email as part of a “how-to” for candidates to request verification since at least January. Back then, I had tweeted on behalf of Devin Pandy, the Dem candidate for Congress from Georgia’s Ninth District, and a member of the NDLB coalition.

In February, I tipped The Hill and The Verge, wondering how frustrated candidates could get verified in a timely manner — without my acting as an intermediary in the process. The Verge reported about a primary candidate’s account: “After speaking with Levine, The Verge contacted Twitter to inquire about the nature of the delay; within hours, the candidate was verified.”

Twitter likewise verified Pandy’s account soon thereafter.

As I wrote for Rantt, Allen Ellison, the Dem candidate from Florida’s 17th Congressional District, had been trying in vain to get Twitter to verify his account. He had garnered more than 117,000 votes, narrowly losing in the 2018 midterm elections, but still hadn’t been verified by Twitter.

On July 5th, I messaged Bridget Coyne, Twitter’s Public Policy Director, requesting that Twitter verify Ellison’s account. Coyne had written a Twitter blog post titled, “Helping identify 2020 US election candidates on Twitter.” In it, she asked and answered this question: “Which candidates will be verified and when?”

Coyne responded promptly to my request on Ellison’s behalf: “If you can contact the candidate to email gov@twitter.com directly that would be the best solution.” I did so.

Later that day, Ellison’s account was verified with a blue checkmark. He texted me the good news (pictured above).

Ellison told Rantt Media last week, “No one gave an explanation as to why the verification process took so long,” and noted that his campaign had sent three emails to Gov@Twitter.com prior to getting verified on July 5th.

Carolyn Salter is the Dem candidate on the ballot to represent Texas’s Fifth Congressional District. She advanced from the Dem Primary in March, according to her Ballotpedia page. Her Twitter account is not verified as of this writing — at least as far as I can tell. Twitter has locked my account.

Last week, I replied to Wegman’s tweet, once again urging candidates who are on the ballot to email Gov@Twitter.com to request verification.

Twitter locked my account this week. Presumably, an automated mechanism incorrectly identified Twitter’s public email address Gov@Twitter.com as “private.” I have appealed the suspension of my account, but have not yet received a response from Twitter.

Candidates for U.S. Congress who are on the ballot in November should email Gov@Twitter.com, with a link to their Ballotpedia page, to request verification and election labels.

No one from Twitter has responded to my inquiry, following up on my article for Rantt Media.

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Author, The Tao of Pug book series (Penguin/Skyhorse). Freelance writer, Sports Illustrated, Salon, AlterNet, etc.

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Nancy Levine

Nancy Levine

Author, The Tao of Pug book series (Penguin/Skyhorse). Freelance writer, Sports Illustrated, Salon, AlterNet, etc.

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