After causing an uproar last week for verifying the account of white supremacist Jason Kessler, Twitter has now backtracked. On Wednesday, the tech company stripped several far-right accounts of their coveted “verified” blue check mark, ahead of a new policy on violent groups and hateful images that Twitter is due to roll out on November 22nd.
“We are conducting an initial review of verified accounts and will remove verification from accounts whose behavior does not fall within these new guidelines,” Twitter said in a statement Wednesday. Under the new guidelines, verified status can be lost if a person “promotes hate” based on “race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability or disease.” Jason Kessler, neo-Nazi Richard Spencer, and a host of several other far-right figures all lost their blue badge.
Here’s a run-down of some of those who are now unverified and what their online messages were:
Robinson is the founder and former leader of the English Defense League (EDL), a far-right organization with the stated aim of combating the “rise of radical Islam.” In practice, that meant that the EDL led a series of often-violent street protests against immigration in the U.K. Robinson left the EDL in 2013 after acknowledging the “dangers of far-right extremism” but has since founded PEGIDA UK, an offshoot of a German group, whose name is an acronym for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident. Robinson was also present in a white supremacist rally in Poland on Saturday where 60,000 people bore signs like “Europe Will Be White.”
Robinson’s Twitter feed primarily consists of sharing Islamophobic content, stories about crimes in which Muslim men were involved, and tweeting support for other European far-right figures, like Dutch politician Geert Wilders. After losing his blue badge of verification, Robinson said “the truth is now hate speech.”
“This isn’t some move that’s been made to ensure people abide by the terms of service,” Robinson said to far-right Rebel Media, where he has his own show. “This comes after Twitter announced brand new ‘anti-hate’ rules which means me and a number of other political commentators have been unverified from Twitter.”
A Purposeful Wife
A Purposeful Wife is a Twitter account run by a blogger known as Ayla, a mother of six and self-described “former feminist and SJW who found Christ.” She also runs a blog which she describes as an “uplifting space” to promote traditional values. “In American and Europe, citizens have become self-obsessed, lazy, fat, demanding, spoiled, loud, controlling, egotistical and mentally ill,” she writes. “Feminism, homosexuality, atheism, hedonism, and transgender-ism are being promoted while the hard work and priorities of family and faith have all but died away and this pattern is killing us, physically and spiritually.”
Ayla’s Twitter feed is a truly bizarre experience, combining a warped nostalgia for the 1950s — she regularly uses the hashtag #TradLife — with sprinklings of racism, sexism and transphobia. She’s also previously issued a “white baby challenge”, expressing support for Congressman Steve King’s (R-IA) comments that Americans “can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”
“I’ve made six,” Ayla said. “Match or beat me!”
#TheGiftIGive is telling women there’s an alternative to feminism and Marxism and hope in Jesus Christ. I let them know that you can be a happy wife and mother who honors her ancestors and provides for her children’s future, even if you’ve been a Leftist in your past. pic.twitter.com/Ce9vN7kEW4
— Wife with a Purpose 🦃 (@apurposefulwife) November 15, 2017
I’m a good litmus test. If a public figure claims to be a “conservative” but calls me a NAZI for..
-saying black ghetto culture is a bad influence
-for saying white people should have babies
-for approving of a torch lit VIGIL
..you know they are a subversive fake. pic.twitter.com/2RXlbNuUTd
— Wife with a Purpose 🦃 (@apurposefulwife) November 15, 2017
Unsurprisingly, Ayla did not take kindly to losing her blue badge. In one tweet, she asked for right-wing media to have her on to discuss the Twitter “de-verification scandal.” In another, she predicted that “when Twitter rolls out their new ‘hate symbol’ guidelines’, one of these will be a ‘hate symbol’; Depictions of homemakers, the 1950s, Christian images, or women in ‘servitude’. They will directly target #TradLife.”
Loomer is a far-right personality perhaps most famous for rushing the stage at a Central Park production of Julius Caesar in June, before being booed and dragged away with fellow far-right personality Jack Posobiec, who livestreamed the incident while screaming “Goebbels would be proud.”
After the Las Vegas shooting in October, Loomer repeatedly interrupted Sheriff Joseph Lombardo a press conference and tried to implicate the FBI in a cover-up. “That’s not how I conduct press conferences” Lombardo finally said. “Please stop asking your question. There’s a decorum that we have here.” In the wake of the New York City truck attack last month, Uber and Lyft banned Loomer for tweeting, “I’m late to the NYPD press conference because I couldn’t find a non Muslim cab or @Uber @lyft driver for over 30 min!”
— Laura Loomer (@LauraLoomer) November 1, 2017
Loomer took her Twitter de-verification especially poorly, comparing the removal of her blue check mark to the Holocaust. “If there’s one thing I have a record of doing, its [sic] catching some most powerful people in the country on camera,” she tweeted. “If the Left wants to try and silence me, and if the Left wants to play this game with me and other conservatives, then let’s play.”
While Loomer, Robinson, and A Purposeful Wife were all incensed by Twitter’s decision to take away their blue tick, they are all still able to post freely on Twitter. The same cannot be said for far-right troll Tim Gionet, also known as Baked Alaska, who has now been permanently banned from the site.
The former BuzzFeed employee made a name for himself during the 2016 election, and also previously worked with white nationalist Milo Yiannopoulous until the pair split under acrimonious circumstances. Gionet has repeatedly harassed Jewish reporters and was present at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in August — but since then his tone has shifted dramatically, and has called for unity in the right and says he wants to focus on “Making America Great Again.” Since the Charlottesville rally, Gionet has also posted a series of increasingly embarrassing videos, including one where a woman outside a Los Angeles nightclub breaks his phone after he harasses her.
It isn’t immediately clear why Gionet was banned, but Twitter referred to its hateful conduct policy, which prohibits “repeated and/or or non-consensual slurs, epithets, racist and sexist tropes, or other content that degrades someone.” In response to his ban, Gionet posted a nine hour livestream of himself on YouTube complaining about his ban, including a section where he wanders around an In-N-Out Burger parking lot harassing customers. “I just woke up and my Twitter account doesn’t work, it says you’re permanently suspended even though I’m verified…even though I didn’t break any rules,” he said. “I’ve been doing my best to follow the rules and I have been following the rules, I’ve been literally doing nothing wrong, I’ve been playing Mario and reading Bible verses.”
What this means going forward
Twitter’s decision to unverify some of the far-right’s most infamous from its site was widely greeted with delight — but it also opens the door for conservatives to claim that the company is violating their free speech.
Twitter is a private company, so it has the right to verify and unverify whoever it wants. Still, while the latest round of deverifications and bans might please progressives, solid guidelines about what is and is not acceptable is still very much a working progress for Twitter. Last month, Twitter prompted Republican fury when it banned the Senate campaign announcement of Tennessee Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, which featured ardently pro-life views. The company was also accused of trying to silence actress Rose McGowan after temporarily locking her account in the wake of the allegations that Harvey Weinstein sexually harassed and assaulted several women over the course of his career.