Twitter is deleting white supremacists’ verification badges, but not their rhetoric
If Twitter thinks this is somehow revolutionary, they have surely reconstructed reality in their heads.
by Ashley Nkadi
Social media has long been thought of as a utopia for progressive thought. These platforms, generally founded and operated by “liberals,” often showcase voices of academia, journalism, and individuals that advocate for change, equality, and social justice. At its best, social media creates important dialogue, provides important information, offers free access to education, and connects communities. However, beneath its surface, something much more insidious rears its ugly head. These same platforms that progressives are acquainted with have even deeper relationships with the radical right.
White supremacy groups are nearly as old as this nation, and not specific to the United States. The Klu Klux Klan and groups of the same violent nature have historically organized using radio announcements, newsletters, and word of mouth. However, the recent advancement of technology has served as a vehicle to enhance not only white nationalists’ communication and organization, but also their recruitment. Breitbart and The Daily Stormer are known as habitats of neo-nazism, abundant with white nationalist fodder; but the true epicenter of this counterculture is closer to home than you may think.
White Supremacists have co-opted the social platforms we use everyday. Online forums like 4chan and Reddit allow for the creation of echo chambers for like-minded people. This can allow strangers online to bond over their love for basketball or popular television shows, but more often than not, these echo chambers are cesspools of racist, homophobic, violent rhetoric that serve as breeding grounds for right-wing extremist movements. Youtube, the same site that delivers cat videos and beauty tutorials to our screens, doubles as a mecca for dangerous alt-right users to find content that fuels their ideology. The Unite the Right demonstration on Charlottesville, Virginia that yielded 19 injuries and three deaths was, in part, organized using a Facebook event.
All the while, the general population never noticed, because while this abhorrent demographic networked within its enclaves, we networked within ours. While we applauded CNN’s clapbacks at Trump, and retweeted articles championing advocacy, amplified opposite behavior was taking place adjacently. An assembly of young, white men who view inclusion as a threat to their livelihood began to be radicalized within their bubbles, emboldening one another, and elevating their voices. The internet and social media streamlined and custom tailored the process of white supremacy’s recruitment, organization, and spread. In these spaces, it grew, unchecked and unfettered, until the terroristic chants of “you will not replace us” rose from the back alleys of the web to the very real streets.
Recently, Twitter began its “purge” of this intolerance. They are not the first. This year Reddit banned r/Nazi, r/EuropeanNationalism, r/whitesarecriminals, and r/Pol, subreddits notorious for hate speech. The creator of Pepe the Frog killed off his character after it was transformed into a symbol of the alt-right. Additionally, crowdfunding site Patreon began deleting white supremacists, YouTube has enlisted volunteers to flag hateful content, and GoDaddy and Google have revoked the domains of neo-nazi news sites in the hopes of stopping the flow of these ideologies. As did Facebook.
In a similar manner, Twitter has decided to tackle hate and harassment on its platform. Twitter rolled out a calendar outlining their plan to remodel their verification process, remove verified badges, prioritize violation reports, delete abusive handles, and enforce their new policies. Examples of accounts whose verification badges were removed include: Richard Spencer, organizer of the Unite the Right rally Jason Kessler, Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke, British pro-Brexiter Tommy Robinson, and far-right influencer Laura Loomer.
According to the emails Twitter sent and white-tear filled tweets that ensued thereafter, those who were stripped of their verification badges were guilty of one or more of the following: intentionally misleading people on Twitter, promoting hate/violence, directly attacking/threatening users based on their identities, supporting organizations that promote hate/violence online and/or offline, inciting or engaging in harassment of others, or violent/dangerous behavior offline.
If Twitter thinks this is somehow revolutionary, they have surely reconstructed reality in their heads. If these users are promoting violence, hate crimes, and harassment – why are they allowed to remain on the platform at all? Twitter claims it does not endorse these views, but shows no interest in eradicating them. Not only did Twitter create unmonitored space for these factions, it also built them a throne and placed a crown upon their heads in the form of a verification badge.
According to Twitter, the purpose of the blue verification badge is to authenticate accounts, giving these accounts visual prominence in order to make it “easier for people to find creators and influencers… result[ing] in more people finding great, high-quality accounts to follow, and for these creators and influencers to connect with a broader audience.” The fact that individuals like Milo Yiannopolis, Jason Kessler, Richard Spencer even have a verification badge to be taken from them is a problem in itself.
When Twitter verified these people, it denoted these accounts as popular influencers of intolerant thought and elevated this hate speech. The badge’s blue light shined like a beacon, helping other white nationalists find these accounts, allowing the account holders to galvanize audiences large enough to host events with the intent of violence against marginalized communities. Twitter did this willfully, purposely, and purposefully. Now, they are backtracking.
For nearly a decade Twitter has been taken to task about the harassment and hate that fills its timelines. They refused to find merit in these claims, and instead gave these terrorists an additional 140 characters to increase the length and creativity of their toxic remarks, a feat almost as incredulous as YouTube paying millions of dollars to its most popular neo-nazi trendsetters.
Twitter is not on a purge, it is “The Purge”—permitting masked miscreants to breach individuals’ spaces and vomit their murderous rage, hatred, and vitriol onto unsuspecting victims. Then, in true “Purge” fashion, these behemoths shed their masks and go back to their privileged lives, not having to account for the crimes they have committed because these injustices were cosigned by Twitter itself.
It’s time for platforms to take a hard stance on white supremacy. Suspensions, reprimands, and demotions are not enough. Erasing the blue check marks rather than the rhetoric is like confiscating tiki torches, but allowing the #UniteTheRight rally to march on.
I’m Ashley Nkadi. I love God, my mama, being Bliggity Black, Gucci Mane, cheese, potatoes, and eyebrow maintenance. In that order. Feel free to read more about me at www.ashleynkadi.com!