In yet another controversy related to Twitter, a fake user profile created by a school student got verified as a 2020 US presidential elections candidate.
The user Andrew Walz’s profile said that he is a proven business leader and a passionate advocate for students. The description said Walz is based out of Rhode Island and is contesting for the upcoming US presidential elections on a Republican ticket, according to a report by CNN.
Walz’s account was verified as part of Twitter’s broader programme where it is trying to verify the authenticity of other election candidates. According to Twitter, the programme is expected to spread reliable information about politicians contesting in the upcoming elections. Since December 2019, Twitter has verified around 1,500 candidates under this programme. However, the revelation of a fake account getting a blue tick has now raised questions on its implementation.
A Twitter spokesperson explained the company’s policies saying that the worst-case scenario is that it verifies someone who isn’t a candidate, but verifying the account of a fake person is a step too far. Twitter has removed the account from the platform, though it is yet to publicly reveal how it verifies users. In fact, the whole point of a verification process is to drive transparency and prove the authenticity of users, and this incident just proves that the opaque verified accounts process is simply a sham.
The fake account was created by New York-based 17-year-old high school student. The unnamed student told CNN that he created the fake Twitter profile as a lark to test Twitter’s election integrity efforts. He simply wanted to know how Twitter is verifying the election candidates and if a non-existing candidate can get a blue tick or not. While Walz has got his answer now, his experiment has now created a debacle for Twitter.
The student behind Walz’s account said that he used a website called This Person Does Not Exist to generate the profile photo for the fake account. This website leverages artificial intelligence technology to create realistic faces of people who don’t exist. This technology is also used to create deepfake videos which recently also made headlines in India after BJP’s Manoj Tiwari was found to be featuring in one of them.
Is Twitter Biased?
While in this incident, Twitter verified a user who didn’t even exist, the company, in past, have been flagged biased when it came to adding blue ticks on users profiles. In November 2019, many of India’s scheduled caste (SC), scheduled tribe (ST) and other backward class (OBC) activists have claimed that the social media platform is creating an exclusion of sorts by neglecting verified tags for accounts which support these communities or work with them, especially those with hundreds of thousands of followers.
Moreover, there have been instances where people in close relation to the political class — and those belonging to affluent families — with barely any followers and a single tweet have verified account status. Notably, an account belonging to Jay Shah, son of the union home minister Amit Shah, on Twitter had 0 tweets and 27 followers as on Nov 6, 2019. But to the surprise of many, his account reflected the verified status on Twitter.