Twitter has a new plan to verify the accounts of congressional and gubernatorial candidates ahead of the 2018 midterms. It’s labeling candidates’ profiles, tweets, and retweets with a small icon of a government building and basic information about what position they’re running for.
The company announced the move, which is a partnership with the nonprofit Ballotpedia, in a blog post Wednesday:
Labels will begin to appear after May 30 on the campaign Twitter accounts of candidates who have already qualified for the general election ballot for an applicable office, and provided Twitter with consent to apply the label.
This will continue on a rolling basis as states continue to hold primary elections and candidates officially qualify for the general election ballot.
The move comes as big tech companies continue to face criticism for hosting fake accounts and bot activity that spread misinformation during the 2016 presidential election. Facebook has also taken action, partnering with five U.S. news and fact-checking organizations (such as Snopes and Politifact) and marking some articles in NewsFeed with an “i” button that links to Wikipedia information about the publishers. Some individual fact-checkers have criticized the company for a lack of transparency and reportedly ignoring their requests to improve the fact-checking process. YouTube has tried to flag false content on its platform, too, having announced in March that it would refer users to Wikipedia articles. (That apparently came as a surprise to Wikipedia.)
Fake politicians aren’t exactly new to Twitter, sometimes coming in the form of parody accounts like @RepStevenSmith, which has been around since 2013. The imaginary Smith has more than 54,000 followers and is a Republican representative from Georgia’s 15th congressional district (no such district exists). The account frequently retweets @realDonaldTrump.
There was also @SenDanTheMan, an unverified account that sparked an ethics complaint in February against Idaho Republican state Sen. Dan Foreman, when it tweeted that college students advocating for a birth control bill should “go talk about killing babies” with Democratic state Sen. Maryanne Jordan. (The tweet came after a video surfaced of Foreman yelling at the students.) The account later posted a message saying it was not affiliated with the senator.
Twitter suspended applications for verification in November after receiving public backlash for giving a white supremacist rally organizer a blue checkmark. But it has made some exceptions. For instance, it was praised for verifying the accounts of some of the most prominent Parkland high school shooting survivors just one week after the incident.