A High School Student Created a Fake 2020 Candidate, and Twitter Verified it
New York (CNN Business)Andrew Walz calls himself a “proven business leader” and a “passionate advocate for students.” Walz, a Republican from Rhode Island, is running for Congress with the tagline, “Let’s make change in Washington together,” or so his Twitter account claimed. Earlier this month, Walz’s account received a coveted blue checkmark from Twitter as part of the company’s broader push to verify the authenticity of many Senate, House and gubernatorial candidates currently running for office. Twitter has framed this effort as key to helping Americans find reliable information about politicians in the leadup to the 2020 election. But there’s just one problem: Walz does not exist. The candidate is the creation of a 17-year-old high school student from upstate New York, CNN Business has learned. The student, who CNN Business spoke to with the permission of his parents and has agreed not to name as he is a minor, said he was “bored” over the holidays and created the fake account to test Twitter’s election integrity efforts. The blue checkmark is a hallmark of Twitter and one that was later copied by Facebook. It is often given to prominent accounts belonging to journalists, politicians, government agencies and businesses. The feature is central to Twitter’s goal of helping users find reliable information on the platform, often from verified newsmakers. The fact that a teenager using next to no resources was able to quickly create a fake candidate in his free time and get it verified by Twitter raises questions about the company’s preparedness for handling how the 2020 elections will play out on its platform. A Twitter spokesperson recently told one publication, “Our worst-case scenario is that we verify someone who isn’t actually the candidate.” Last year, Twitter was criticized for saying it would not verify candidates unless they won their primaries. In December, Twitter changed its policy and said it would verify primary candidates to help improve information for voters on the platform. The verification of the false candidate is an example of the challenges social media companies can face when they try to make changes that are meant to make their platforms more transparent. After CNN Business contacted Twitter about the fake account, the company suspended it. “The creation of a fake candidate account is in violation of our rules and the account has been permanently suspended,” a Twitter spokesperson said. The verification of the fake candidate came as real candidates across the US have complained that Twitter has not verified their accounts. One Democratic primary candidate in Georgia told CNN Business that not being verified may negatively impact online donations made to her campaign. Twitter told CNN Business it had verified nearly 1,500 candidates since announcing the expansion of its verification program in December. The making of a fake candidate The high school student said he became interested in how social media platforms were trying to combat election meddling after learning in history class about Russia’s interference in the 2016 US presidential election. After Twitter announced in December that it would give a blue checkmark to verify all 2020 congressional and gubernatorial candidates, the high school senior decided to test how the company was verifying that candidates really were who they said they were — and if they existed in the first place. “During Christmas break I was kind of bored and I learned a lot from history class, » Read More
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