Thinking of voting for Andrew Walz? Forget it, friend, he’s fake. Walz is a totally made up Republican Rhode Island congressional candidate. His name and the “official” Andrew Walz Twitter account were entirely concocted by a 17-year-old high school student, according to CNN Business. And guess what Twitter did? They verified Walz’s account. A fake account. For a guy who doesn’t exist.
How did this happen? The way so many other weird things happen. A teenager got bored and decided to test the system. In this case, the teen (who asked CNN Business not to reveal his name) was interested in testing Twitter’s “election integrity efforts.” And it took this clever young man all of 25 minutes to do so: 20 minutes to create a website for the fake politician, and another five minutes to set up the Twitter account. Done. Presto.
Even Andrew Walz’s profile pic was a fake. The teen got it from a website called This Person Does Not Exist. Yeah, you guessed it, it’s a site that generates fake (but realistic) pictures for fake people.
It goes without saying that the unnamed teenager’s little scheme is a straight-up violation of Twitter’s rules. So, naturally, the Andrew Walz account has been permanently suspended. But how in the world did Twitter fall for this in the first place?
That’s where a site called Ballotpedia comes in. Ballotpedia, which is one of Twitter’s partners, is an “encyclopedia” of elections and political candidates. Twitter works with Ballotpedia in order to verify the identities of those candidates. With the 2020 election fast approaching, both Ballotpedia and Twitter have had their hands full.
Well, the teen told CNN Business that he submitted the Andrew Walz Twitter page and website to Ballotpedia. Ballotpedia then listed Andrew Walz as a bona fide Rhode Island congressional candidate, and Twitter verified Walz’s candidacy via Ballotpedia. According to the teen, nobody – not Twitter and not Ballotpedia – asked him for any documentation to prove that Andrew Walz was a real guy.
“We’ve put into place a rigorous process to ensure that, through our partnership with Ballotpedia, we accurately identify and verify candidates’ legitimate Twitter accounts,” a Twitter spokesperson said in a statement to TIME Magazine about the Andrew Walz Twitter account. “Sometimes, this thorough process can cause a short delay between when candidates qualified for the primary ballot and when candidates are verified. Unfortunately, an individual found loopholes in our process by submitting a fake candidate and a fake account for verification.”
And what does Ballotpedia have to say for itself?
Geoff Pallay, Ballotpedia’s editor in chief, told CNN Business that a lot of candidates will create a website for themselves long before they are required to file for their state’s election. That’s why Ballotpedia categorizes politicians under two categories: “declared candidate” and “officially filed candidate.” Pallay said Ballotpedia had been sending Twitter a list of candidates without making the distinction between the two types.
“[We] definitely made a mistake here,” Pallay said.