New Twitter Rules
FILE – On November 1, 2022, a Twitter logo is seen outside the company’s San Francisco offices.
THE NEW YORK
It used to be simple to find reliable information about the elections in Philadelphia on Twitter. The sole account with a blue checkmark, indicating validity, was that of the city commissioners who oversee elections, @phillyvotes.
However, the tick mark has vanished since the social networking platform updated its verification program last month. Due to this, it is more difficult to identify @phillyvotes from a series of random accounts that are not managed by the elections office but have names that are quite similar.
The electoral commission requested a grey tick mark—Twitter’s new emblem to assist users recognize official government accounts—weeks ago, but the company has not yet received a response, according to Nick Custo, a spokesman for the commission. Uncertainty surrounds whether @phillyvotes qualifies as a government account under Twitter’s new rules.
This is problematic, according to Custodio, given Pennsylvania’s primary election is on May 16 and the commission uses its account to provide voters with crucial information in real time. Going into election day, it will be simpler to mimic the account and tougher for people to trust it if it is still unconfirmed.
One of the many issues election security experts are concerned about ahead of the presidential election next year is impostor accounts on social media. Experts have issued a warning that other parties or foreign foes may attempt to sway the outcome of the election through hacking into election infrastructure or internet disinformation campaigns.
Since Twitter owner Elon Musk disorganized the platform’s verification function, election officials around the nation have battled to determine how to respond. Twitter has been among their best methods for interacting with the general public.
Others are using Twitter’s other tools, like purchasing checkmarks for their profiles or requesting a special designation only available to governments, although their results have been varied. The inconsistent nature of Twitter’s new verification method, according to election and security experts, is a misinformation catastrophe waiting to happen.
“The lack of clear, at-a-glance verification on Twitter is a ticking time bomb for disinformation,” said Rachel Tobac, CEO of the cybersecurity firm SocialProof Security. Users will be confused by that, particularly on significant days like election days.
In April, Twitter removed the blue checkmarks it had previously given to notable journalists, public figures, celebrities, and public personalities. Musk informed users that anyone may replace them by paying $8 per month for a gold tick mark costs $1,000 per month or a blue tick mark costs an individual as a “verified organization.”
The policy change soon made it possible for pranksters to pose effectively as famous people, politicians, and other official figures, which could no longer be recognized as genuine. Some fake accounts were obviously humorous, but others caused confusion.
The city of Chicago was allegedly blocking one of its major thoroughfares to private travel, according to fake accounts posing as Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, the city’s Department of Transportation, and the Illinois Department of Transportation. The bogus accounts replicated the original ones’ home page links, biographical text, and images. Before being deleted, their posts received hundreds of thousands of views.
According to Twitter’s new guidelines, governmental entities and some of its affiliates can seek to have their accounts marked as official with a grey checkmark. However, at the state and local levels, only “main executive office accounts and main agency accounts overseeing crisis response, public safety, law enforcement, and regulatory issues,” according to the regulation, are considered qualifying organizations.
Election management organizations are not included in the rules. Therefore, the local election commission has not heard from anyone since the main Philadelphia city government account swiftly acquired its grey tick mark last month.
A Twitter search reveals that the election offices in four of the five most populous counties in the US, including Cook County in Illinois, Harris County in Texas, Maricopa County in Arizona, and San Diego County, are still unconfirmed. Election conspiracy theorists have regularly singled out Maricopa, which includes Phoenix, as their target since it is the state’s most populated and significant county and one of the most divisive political battlegrounds.
When contacted by The Associated Press, some counties said they were not too concerned about impersonation or that they intended to ask for a grey check later. However, some counties said that they had already done so and had not yet received a response from Twitter.
Government labels are still being awaited by several state electoral offices. Shenna Bellows’ office, the secretary of state for Maine, is one of them.
There was “nothing to do as we continue to manually process applications from around the world,” a Twitter official responded in an email sent to Bellows’ communications director on April 24 and seen by The Associated Press. In a follow-up email, the employee said Twitter was “ready to swiftly enforce any impersonation, so please don’t hesitate to flag any problematic accounts.”
The only autoreply to a comment request issued to Twitter’s press office and a company safety officer was a poop emoji.
Bellows stated to the AP that “our job is to strengthen public confidence.” “Even a small setback, like not being able to guarantee that our information on Twitter is verified, contributes to a less stable and secure environment.”
Some government accounts—including the one for the second-largest county in Pennsylvania—bought blue checks because they were informed they had to if they wanted to keep using the platform for advertising.
The blue tick mark “was necessary,” according to Amie Downs, the county’s communications director, because Allegheny County tweets advertisements for elections and job openings.
The tick mark loses significance when anybody may purchase verification and when government accounts are not properly labeled, according to Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold.
To keep the faith of the electorate, Griswold’s office was given a grey tick mark; nevertheless, she informed the AP that she would not purchase verification for her personal Twitter account since “it doesn’t carry the same weight” it once did.
At the Philadelphia Elections Commission, Custodio stated that even if a grey tick is turned down, his agency will not purchase verification.
“The blue or gold tick mark just verifies you as a paid subscriber and does not verify identity,” he claimed.
The changes made by Twitter, according to experts and advocates monitoring election conversation on social media, make it more difficult for well-intentioned users to determine what material is appropriate to publish as well as encourage bad actors to undertake disinformation campaigns.
Voters will be required to double-check that the information they are consuming and sharing is accurate because Twitter isn’t doing a good job of verifying it, according to Jill Greene, voting and elections manager for Common Cause Pennsylvania.
According to Mike Caulfield, a research scientist at the University of Washington’s Centre for an Informed Public, this weakens a feature of Twitter that up until now had been considered one of its strengths – allowing community members to come together to boost authoritative information.
“The first rule of a good user interface for an online community is to ‘assist the helpers.’ That is not this, Caulfield declared. “It robs them of the tools to make quick, precise decisions,” a group of people who want to advance excellent information says.