ParentsTogether Calls on Twitter to Strengthen Verification Policy to Protect Kids

December 8, 2020

ParentsTogether submitted the comment below in response to Twitter’s request for public feedback on its draft verification policy.

ParentsTogether appreciates Twitter working to clarify and improve its verification policy. As a U.S. organization representing 2.5 million parents, ParentsTogether has two specific areas of concern where we ask that you strengthen your draft policy to better protect children.

First, the draft policy doesn’t directly address children, but it should. According to some estimates, kids make up as much as 9.1% of your total user base. In order to provide an additional layer of protection for the millions of children who use your platform, the verification policy should specify that users, accounts and organizations who deliberately spread disinformation targeting kids or target kids with hateful content or other harmful content will immediately and permanently have their verification revoked.

For example, if the policy were in place, the verification of accounts belonging to Turning Point USA (@TPUSA), Turning Point Action (@TurningPointACT), and Turning Point USA’s president Charlie Kirk (@charliekirk11) would be revoked in response to Turning Point USA’s deliberate disinformation campaign targeting children, as documented by The Washington Post. Since the disinformation campaign was exposed in September, those accounts have continued using your platform to spread disinformation to their millions of collective followers – including countless children – about COVID-19, the results of the 2020 presidential election, and other topics. By granting these accounts the legitimacy associated with verification, Twitter is tacitly supporting TPUSA’s efforts to disseminate disinformation to children.

Second, the draft policy’s section on “loss of verified status” leaves far too much discretion to Twitter staff. In particular, the policy states that while Twitter “may also remove the blue badge from accounts that are found to be in severe or repeated violation of the Twitter Rules… removal of the badge based on repeated violations will be assessed on a case-by-case basis and is not automatic.” A platform like Twitter that is used by millions of children should take a more aggressive stance with regard to consequences for violating its rules, particularly when it comes to rules focused on “hateful conduct,” “abusive behavior,” and the “glorification of violence.” Whether or not children are specifically targeted by a specific Tweet, when verified accounts with a large following engage in such conduct, many children are exposed to it and can reasonably be expected to suffer harm as a result.

The draft rules should be strengthened to eliminate this wiggle room and specify that repeated violations of the rules prohibiting “hateful conduct,” “abusive behavior,” and the “glorification of violence” will result in an automatic, immediate and permanent revocation of verification, rather than being subject to revocation on a case-by-case basis.

As your November 24 blog post acknowledges, Twitter hasn’t “been clear about who can become verified and when, why an account might be unverified, or what it means to be verified.” Implementing the two proposed modifications to your verification policy outlined above would go a long way toward clarifying the policy and would represent a big step forward in your efforts to make Twitter a safe platform for children.