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Twitter suspends verification service after giving Charlottesville rally organizer a blue check mark

Jason Kessler, right, organized August's "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Va.
(Tasos Katopodis / European Pressphoto Agency)

Two days after Twitter Inc. stamped a blue verification badge on the Twitter account of Jason Kessler — the far-right organizer of August’s “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va. — the social network announced that it has temporarily stopped verifying accounts as it reevaluates the service.

“Verification was meant to authenticate identity & voice but it is interpreted as an endorsement or an indicator of importance. We recognize that we have created this confusion and need to resolve it. We have paused all general verifications while we work and will report back soon,” the company tweeted.

Kessler’s verification on Tuesday prompted questions and criticism.

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In a string of tweets less than a month ago, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey asserted the company’s commitment and priority to combating harassment on its platform. His comments came in the midst of the #WomenBoycottTwitter campaign that followed the suspension of Rose McGowan’s Twitter account. (The actress apparently violated the site’s terms of service by posting a private phone number as she railed against sexual assault in Hollywood.)

“We decided to take a more aggressive stance in our rules and how we enforce them. New rules around: unwanted sexual advances, non-consensual nudity, hate symbols, violent groups, and tweets that glorifies violence,” Dorsey tweeted.

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But Kessler’s tweets have not always followed that policy. In a now-deleted tweet from August, Kessler insulted Heather Heyer — the woman killed during the rally when a white supremacist drove into a crowd of protesters — and portrayed her death as justified.

“Heather Heyer was a fat, disgusting Communist. Communists have killed 94 million. Looks like it was payback time,” the tweet read.

Kessler later said his account had been hacked. Then he rescinded that claim, saying instead that he had mixed alcohol with prescription drugs — “I sometimes wake up having done strange things I can’t remember.”

While Twitter rethinks its verification policy, the blue check mark remains on Kessler’s account. His latest tweet is a poll that asks: “Is it okay to be white?”

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colleen.shalby@latimes.com

Twitter: @cshalby

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