In 2016, Twitter made the snap decision to strip MILO of his blue badge. Ostensibly designed to verify users’ identities, the symbol has become something of an honorary status for media men and other people who aspire to relevance. Russiagate conspiracy peddler Seth Abramson even brags about his verified status on his resume.
Documents obtained by BuzzFeed News show that MILO–whose company, MILO, Inc owns DANGEROUS–prompted a heated argument between the company’s top executives on how to handle the conservative firebrand, whose presence was like a thorn they couldn’t quite pull out without bleeding profusely.
And so bleed they did.
By deverifying him, the company acted against its own stated policies and turned the verification checkmark into a badge of honor. The company’s internal frustration with the sanguine personality arose after he contacted Twitter CEO asking for it to be restored. In exchange, he promised to play nice.
Dorsey forwarded the email to his cohorts for a solution. They couldn’t find one.
The men in charge of Twitter debated on whether to reinstate his checkmark. As BuzzFeed News remarks, the executives had no clear understanding of Twitter’s verification policy, which was subverted by the platform’s own users because of the company’s niggardly attitude towards doling out blue checkmarks. They attained rare status.
Twitter’s general counsel Vijaya Gadde expressed confusion over whether MILO should be verified.
“I thought that he wasn’t qualified for verification under current guidelines – is that not true?” Vijaya wrote. “I want to make sure we are doing the right thing here and not responding to external pressure or attacks from him. We’ve already taken the PR hit, so let’s make sure we are focused on getting this right!”
Others, like VP of user services Tina Bhatnagar proposed banning MILO as a solution—a suggestion that was shot down by Adam Sharp, who was then Twitter’s head of news, government, and elections.
“To my understanding, none of the violations taken individually warrant permanent suspension and while we have escalations for repeat offenses of some types, we don’t have a blanket ‘three strikes you’re out’-type policy,” he wrote.
Unable to find an objective criterion for deverification, Gadde requested clarification of the policy, which has undergone many changes since the heated debate.
In November 2017, the company deverified several high-profile conservatives, including political commentator Laura Loomer and British anti-Islam activist Tommy Robinson.
In attempting to resolve the confusion of verified checkmarks, which Twitter says were interpreted by users as an endorsement or an “indicator of importance,” the company chose to disavow the views expressed by these individuals by removing their statuses. However, Hollywood personalities dogged by accusations of sexual assault like Kevin Spacey and Harvey Weinstein remain verified.
Internal emails show that like many of the platform’s users, Twitter’s own employees viewed verification as a status symbol. After all, brands, celebrities, journalists, and politicians make up the bulk of verified users.
Other emails reviewed by the publication reveal that the status bestowed privileges both technical and social onboard the platform. Verified users attained prominence and visibility.
“It has become a cultural status symbol. It influences search ranking. It exempts a user from some spam filters. It gives them priority support treatment,” said Sharp in a thread that included Jack Dorsey and other high-ranking executives.
Sharp revealed that Twitter’s internal metrics valued verified users for investors. “[Verification] makes the account measured for Media OKRs [Objectives and Key Results] and contributes to the VIT [Very Important Tweeter] count we report to shareholders,” he said.
BuzzFeed News confirmed that Twitter’s earnings reports included references to celebrities and VIP users. It was important, therefore, to reward popular people with the status.
The company’s internal policies were at odds with their public stance on the issue, as bad actors who violated the terms of service were allowed to keep posting despite their conduct. Twitter took particular issue with MILO, whom they claim broke the rules by “writing hit pieces” and “tweeting directly at the target of his piece to taunt them,” which they claim subtly incited mob harassment—among other purported faults.
Bhatnagar once again raised the issue of permanently banning MILO, and expressed frustration at his ability to exploit loopholes in their policies.
“So if we can take the stance to debadge, then why can’t we take the stance to perma-suspend?” he wrote. “We perma suspended Chuck Johnson even though it wasn’t direct violent threats. It was just a call that the policy team made. He is finding loopholes in policy which is almost worse than the people who blatantly have violations.”
Despite removing MILO’s verification, Dorsey and other Twitter executives remained befuddled by their own policies and were unable to arrive at a consensus on how to deal with the issue.
It eventually dealt with the provocateur by banning him for his remarks about Ghostbusters actress Leslie Jones, whom they claim was the victim of a harassment campaign. In doing so, the company closed its eyes to Jones’ history of controversial tweets—enforcing its lop-sided policy against MILO.
Following outrage over the ban, Dorsey sent a company-wide email informing them to make safety a top priority, ending his email with a quote by Gandhi, imploring them to keep their spirits up.