He’s blue check verified — and doesn’t exist.
An upstate New York teenager tricked Twitter into verifying an account he fabricated for a Republican “candidate” running for Congress named Andrew Walz, CNN Business reported Friday.
The prankster’s pretend politico touted himself as a “proven business leader” from Rhode Island, who is a “passionate advocate for students.” His Twitter bio included the platitude “Let’s make change in Washington together.”
The 17-year-old, whose parents asked that he be unnamed, said he was inspired to try out the experiment after Twitter announced that it would make a bigger effort to give the coveted blue checks to all 2020 congressional and gubernatorial candidates. The mark indicates that the user’s identity has been verified. It’s seen as a sign of credibility.
The teen wanted to see if the social media giant was really vetting candidates adequately, he told CNN Business.
He also admitted that he was just plain “bored” over the holidays.
It only took him about 20 minutes to set up a website for his counterfeit candidate and just five minutes to make the Twitter account. He then used the website This Person Does Not Exist to generate Walz’s face. The site uses realistic features of humans to make a fake person, and has frequently been used in deep-fake videos.
He submitted all the bogus materials to Ballotpedia — a nonprofit that calls itself a “digital encyclopedia of American politics and elections.” The teen likely chose to submit Walz’s information to the site since Twitter revealed it would be partnering with the organization to help them identify candidates.
Neither Ballotpedia nor Twitter asked for any additional materials — such as an ID card — in order to assure that Walz was real, the teen said.
Ballotpedia’s editor-in-chief, Geoff Pallay, explained that the mistake likely happened since the site does not distinguish between “declared” candidates — which would be Walz’s case, had he been a real person — or “officially filed” candidates.
Every week the site submits its list of candidates, officially filed or not, to Twitter in order to help Twitter verify the pols.
“Ballotpedia definitely made a mistake here,” Pallay said, adding that it will make the distinction in the future.
When Twitter reached out to Walz about verifying his account, its only ask was that he switch the background image, the teenager said.
As of Wednesday, the account had only 10 followers, but Twitter swiftly suspended it after CNN Business reached out.
“The creation of a fake candidate account is in violation of our rules and the account has been permanently suspended,” a Twitter spokesperson told the news outlet.
Last year, the social media company drew ire from critics after declaring that it would not verify candidates unless they had already won in the primaries. The backlash led the company to change its tune, and in December the platform announced it would verify primary candidates in order to help voters. Twitter has since verified nearly 1,500 accounts of people who are running — or at least who claim to be.
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