Political Campaigns Lament Loss of Twitter Verified Accounts

Nevada Senate hopeful Sharron Angle’s Twitter account is not verified, but her opponent, Democratic Senator Harry Reid’s, is. Both Senate candidates from California – Democrat Barbara Boxer and Republican Carly Fiorina – have the Twitter stamp of approval. Yet neither Delaware Democrat Chris Coons nor his rival in the race for Senate, Republican tea partier Christine O’Donnell has a verified account.

Those uncertified candidates are out of luck. Twitter currently isn’t verifying accounts, whether they be from political candidates, celebrities, or brands. A page on the Twitter site describing verified accounts states, “We’re closing the beta test of this feature to build a system that will be better for users. For updates, please stay tuned to our blog.” It is unclear how long the program has been unavailable, and the company did not respond to ClickZ’s requests for an interview.

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Twitter announced in June 2009 it would begin testing its Verified Account feature. Verified accounts – intended “for accounts who deal with identity confusion regularly on Twitter” – display a seal labeling the account as “Verified” in the description portion of a Twitter profile page.

Anna Handzlik, a new media consultant at Engage, a Republican digital agency, said she thinks Twitter halted the service about two months ago.”It’s a pretty important feature to have,” she said. “For instance, [Virginia Governor] Bob McDonnell’s account isn’t verified, and it’s sort of confusing to people on Twitter as to why someone with so much name recognition doesn’t have a verified account.”

Handzlik said she and her colleagues have attempted to get accounts verified recently for various political candidates and office holders to no avail. “It used to be that Members of Congress automatically got their Twitter accounts verified,” she told ClickZ News. “Other VIPs had to contact Twitter personally to be considered for a verified account.”

The Coons campaign’s lack of account verification, for instance, could cause voters confusion. In addition to the official @Coons account, there’s an @MeetChrisCoons account set up by an opponent featuring negative posts such as, “Coons Abused County Pension System for Political Payoffs.” Meanwhile, there’s also a moribund @Coons4Delaware account; the last post to that account, from April, directs people to “our official account, @chriscoons.”

Maryland’s Board of Elections passed rules earlier this year requiring political campaigns to include a disclosure statement on Facebook profile pages, Twitter account pages, and most display ads. The rule was proposed in part to help prevent opponents from spoofing accounts in order to damage a candidate’s reputation.

Even before Twitter shut down the service, “It was extremely challenging,” said Mindy Finn, a partner at Engage. “No one ever really seemed to know who to go to [at Twitter],” she said. Finn suggested that one of the reasons the firm was looking for a full-time “Government Liaison” to work in Washington, D.C. is to communicate better with consultants like her about such issues. Twitter’s job site still lists that position, suggesting the company has yet to fill it.

The Twitter site suggests the “easiest” way to assure people that an account is genuine is to link to the Twitter profile from an official website. Many candidates, celebrities, and brands do link to their Twitter profiles from official sites. However, people often arrive at Twitter profile pages via links on Twitter, or search engine results, rather than through official websites. The company suggests that account holders concerned about “impersonation” should file a complaint “ticket” through the site.

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