Twitter falling short on pledge to verify primary candidates

Twitter has pledged to proactively verify new candidates’ accounts this election cycle, but an analysis by The Hill shows that effort falling short.

Nearly 90 primary candidates in the five states holding congressional and gubernatorial primaries on Super Tuesday still have not received the company’s coveted “blue check,” with only a week until the vote.

Twitter in December promised it would attempt to level the playing field between little-known challengers and established incumbents by verifying all House, Senate or gubernatorial candidates who qualify for primaries in 2020.

Why it matters: Twitter verification can be a vital asset to upstart political candidates seeking to oust established politicians, many of whom come into the race with significant social media followings and treasure troves of funding. Those who are verified receive a blue check mark on their profiles and receive better visibility on Twitter, a powerful network with 330 million users.

The platform has verified nearly 1,000 contenders so far, but The Hill’s analysis of contests for next week shows that the platform has fallen well short of its promise.

In the 130 House, Senate and gubernatorial primaries scheduled for March 3 in Alabama, Arkansas, California, North Carolina and Texas, The Hill found 89 candidates on official ballots with Twitter accounts that are not verified.

Of those candidates, 31 are Democrats and 55 are Republicans. The other three are from third parties with contested primaries.

Candidates are frustrated: “This has been a huge problem,” John Anthony Castro, a Republican running against Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), said in a phone interview. “They’re definitely not living up to their promise.” Castro said he has been regularly reaching out to Twitter about receiving a verification badge for months and has not received any reply.

A muddied process: While Twitter has taken meaningful steps toward fulfilling its original pledge — it says it has verified nearly 1,000 accounts since announcing the policy — the process has been inconsistent and frustrating for many of the candidates. One of the unverified candidates described his efforts to communicate with Twitter as a “nightmare.”

Frances Yasmeen Motiwalla, a progressive Democrat running in California against Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D), said she has reached out to Twitter to verify her active account with hundreds of followers multiple times, “with no response.”

“The lack of transparency in this process has been extremely frustrating to me,” Motiwalla said in an email to The Hill. “Given their influence in our political discourse, Twitter has a responsibility to treat all candidates fairly.”

Twitter says there is a lag time because it is working to ensure all of the candidates it is verifying are real.

“The process we implemented is rigorous in order to ensure that we accurately identify and verify candidates’ legitimate Twitter accounts,” a Twitter spokesperson said in a statement to The Hill.

The exceptions: Twitter does not verify accounts that have never tweeted or that do not have profile pictures of the person’s face, for example. These carve outs were not made public, meaning many candidates may not have known they had to change their profiles to be verified. Twitter says it contacts candidates to tell them to update their profiles if they want to be verified.

But The Hill’s analysis found dozens of active candidates with profile pictures who tweeted about their campaigns who remained unverified. Over the past several months, several candidates only received verification after launching public pressure campaigns or after journalists inquired about their status.