Twitter Verified a Teenager's Account for a Made-Up Politician
"I had no malicious intent," the teen told CNN. "I just wanted to simply test to see whether this could happen"
A 17-year-old New York teenager reportedly fooled Twitter by creating an account for a fake politician and getting it successfully verified as real — and raising concern about the social media giant’s verification process.
The teen boy, who spoke to CNN this week and remains unnamed because he’s a minor, said he was “bored” over the holidays and created the account to test Twitter’s verification system.
He created an account for “Andrew Walz,” an ersatz politician who identified himself as a Republican running for Congress in Rhode Island with a vague but typical campaign promise: “Let’s make change in Washington together.”
CNN reports that the teenager’s fake profile received a blue checkmark, which signals to other users that the account is real and run by a notable person.
The social media platform created a new policy to identify and verify more politicians running for office in December after it received backlash in previous elections when it would only verify politicians who won their primaries and were in the final leg of their races.
“Labels will appear on the Twitter accounts of candidates running for US House of Representatives, US Senate, or Governor in the 2020 US election who have qualified for the general election ballot,” the official policy reads.
The platform told CNN that it has identified and verified more than 1,500 politicians on its site since changing its policy. But the fake account for “Andrew Walz” shows that the company has the potential to misidentify users as legitimate public figures.
“During Christmas break I was kind of bored and I learned a lot from history class, but also on the news they were talking more about misinformation,” the teen boy behind the account told CNN, adding that it took him 20 minutes to create a fake website for his made-up candidate and five minutes to make the candidate’s Twitter account.
The high school student then submitted his profile along with a brief survey about his made-up candidate to Ballotpedia — a site dedicated to aggregating information about politicians running for office around the country. Twitter announced it was teaming with Ballotpedia in December as part of its new verification process, partly relying on the site to help identify political candidates.
Neither of the two sites followed up with the teen to ask for additional identification regarding “Andrew Walz,” CNN reports. Twitter did follow up after he requested verification, asking him to add a background image to the profile, but requested no additional information.
Ballotpedia’s editor-in-chief, Geoff Pallay, told CNN: “Ballotpedia definitely made a mistake here.”
Twitter suspended the account after CNN reached out to the company about it.
The teen told CNN his intentions were to test the site’s verification process rather than contribute to false information.
“I want Twitter to succeed. I love Twitter,” he said. “I think it’s a great platform and I’ve learned so much from it.”
The platform has become a staple of political communication — most famously (and infamously) with President Donald Trump, who makes national announcements there as well as attacks his opponents and mocks celebrities, activists and others.
“I had no malicious intent,” the teen told CNN. “I just wanted to simply test to see whether this could happen. So in case someone with bad intentions wanted to do this, Twitter now knows and can take steps to fix this.”