Twitter blesses extremists with paid ‘blue checks’

Previously, verification was performed at no cost to users to authenticate accounts belonging to public figures, media outlets, government agencies, and reporters.

However, between November 9 and 11, users were able to sign up for a paid tier of the service, Twitter Blue, which for $7.99 per month would add a “blue check mark to your profile, just like celebrities, companies and politicians. go on.” Twitter stopped new subscriptions to Twitter Blue late on November 11 after a series of copycat accounts, including one targeting Musk’s other company, Tesla, created an impression of chaos on the site.

The vast majority of Twitter users passed up this offer, and reports on internal Twitter discussions put the number of subscribers at just 140,000 of the 450 million active Twitter users who signed up. But dozens of extremists purchased blue checks during the two-day availability window.

Hatewatch’s investigation into the use of Twitter Blue by extremists, based in part on a third-party public list of paid blue-check accounts, found that white nationalists, anti-LGBTQ extremists, and other far-right individuals and groups now they look what it was once a symbol of credibility on the platform.

The blue check fever is just one indication of Musk’s apparent lack of interest in policing hate speech on the social media platform he bought for some $44 billion last month.

Hatewatch identified extremist blue-check accounts by consulting the list of paid accounts created by software developer Travis Brown and matching them against active Twitter accounts.

Brown has developed several tools to monitor extremists online. He told Hatewatch in a phone conversation that the latest version of the list shows accounts that have paid blue checks ranked “by their centrality to far-right Twitter networks,” so accounts with the most connections to other Twitter accounts extreme right receive a higher rating. ranking in the list.

Using this method, Hatewatch found that many white nationalists, white power activists, and others committed to racist political ideologies have paid blue checks.

White nationalists with blue checks include fired Trump employee and purveyor of junk news Darren Beattie; announcer Henrik Palmgren; and Dave Reilly, who marched with “Unite the Right” protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017, and used his fake news site, the Idaho Tribune, to mobilize the far right against events like the Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho, Pride Festival in June.

Another white nationalist account sporting a blue check was the one associated with Antelope Hill Publishing. In June, Hatewatch identified Vincent Cucchiara, Sarah Cucchiara and Dmitri Loutsik as three of the directors of the company, which is closely aligned with the pro-Hitler National Justice Party.

Other far-right “America First” outlets that promote a variety of far-right positions, including many shared with white nationalism, also bought blue checks. They include Minnesota blogger and former columnist John Gilmore, whose website promotes concepts coined by far-right ideologues as “clues to the zeitgeist,” and whose Twitter timeline obsessively focuses on issues associated with white nationalism.

Anti-LGBTQ propagandists also bought blue checks. They included Chaya Raichik, who began her “Libs of TikTok” activities by mobilizing supporters against LGBTQ users on the video-sharing site TikTok, and has since expanded to promote anti-LGBTQ conspiracy theories, drawing hostile attention to school teachers who allow discussion in the classroom. and sexuality, and highlighting hospitals that provide gender-affirming care.

Many of the people and organizations that Raichik has targeted have subsequently been subjected to threats. Raichik’s account was briefly suspended by the pre-Musk Twitter moderators.

Other anti-LGBTQ activists who bought blue checks include traditional Catholic YouTuber Taylor Marshall, who once ranted that men decorating gingerbread houses were “sissy,” and the “UnWokable Podcast,” which represents an anti-LGBTQ propaganda outlet. -LGBTQ operated by Mark Ousley, from Oklahoma.

Radical parent groups, including Awake Illinois and Courage Is a Habit, also took the opportunity to buy some ersatz legitimacy. Each is part of a wave of such parent groups urging followers to attack members and allies of the LGBTQ community, mask and vaccine mandates, and an inclusive curriculum, such as critical race theory. . The groups organize people radicalized by their hateful rhetoric to mount disruptive protests at school board meetings, advocate for book bans in school libraries, and run for school board.

In July, Awake Illinois directed hostile attention at a Chicago bakery ahead of a children’s drag event. The bakery was later vandalized and Joseph I. Collins, 24, of Alsip, Illinois, was arrested and charged for the incident. Collins is currently on trial on charges of vandalism and a felony hate crime.

Courage Is a Habit was founded by Indiana-based magician and anti-LGBTQ activist Alvin Lui. Lui was previously associated with another radical parent group, Unify Carmel, which used common movement tactics by allegedly disrupting school board meetings in an attempt to induce Indiana’s Carmel Clay School District to roll back diversity and inclusion measures and COVID related mask mandates.

His efforts in 2021 were rewarded with attention from powerful conservative groups like Heritage Action, the propaganda organ for the Heritage Foundation.

Other far-right extremists who bought blue checks include male supremacist Tanner Guzy, who has indicated his support for the far-right Mormon fundamentalist movement “Deseret nationalist” or “DezNat”; Alex Stein, a far-right internet artist who specializes in bigoted stunt video recordings; and anti-Muslim pro-Trump influencer Amy Mekelburg, who has been spreading hate on Twitter as Amy Mek since 2013.

In addition, Richard Spencer, the erstwhile “alt-right” influencer, and Jason Kessler, organizer of the 2017 “Unite Right” rally in Charlottesville, where Heather Heyer was murdered, both bought blue checks after their caps were removed. verification in November 2017. .

Hatewatch contacted Twitter’s press office but received no response. Hatewatch also unsuccessfully tried to contact Musk for a response.

Twitter introduced verification, and an indicative blue tick on user profiles, in 2009 following several high-profile incidents in which celebrities impersonated the platform. Verification of the site was later extended to journalists, media outlets, politicians and other public figures in an attempt to curb the spread of phishing and misinformation on the platform.

Progressive activists have criticized Twitter for verifying extremists like Kessler and Spencer, arguing that the verification legitimizes their political advocacy. But the political right had also long made individual “blue check” users who had been verified by Twitter targets of their resentment and even harassment.

The political right associated users of the “blue check” with liberal politicians, journalists, academics and other groups perceived as enemies. This was related to a widespread belief among conservatives and the far right that the major social media platforms were biased against the right.

Twitter’s own research published in late 2021 suggested that the platform had been amplifying more tweets from right-wing politicians and media outlets than their left-wing counterparts.

Meanwhile, commentators and activists have argued that Musk’s chaotic changes to verification are pandering to right-wing resentment of the old verification system and will turn the site into a “scammer’s paradise.”

a washington post The reporter was able to set up a verified account for Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Ed Markey under the new verification regime last week, leading to a testy Twitter exchange between Markey and Musk.

Illustrative photo by SPLC

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