The young American did so to test the actions taken by Twitter in the run-up to the US elections. Pixabay
“Let’s make change in Washington together.” That’s the slogan that Andrew Walz, the House of Representatives candidate for the 2020 elections, posted on Twitter. The social network granted its blue certification lozenge — a guarantee of security and recognition — to the man who presented himself as a Republican from the state of Rhode Island. Yet candidate Andrew Walz does not exist. It came straight out of the imagination of an American high school student, CNN reports. The 17-year-old digital forger said he acted while he was “bored during the holidays” to test the new rules announced by Twitter to limit the spread of “fake news” during election periods.
Healing the credibility of his imaginary candidate, the young American first created a fake website for him. He then created a Twitter account for ‘Andrew Walz’, using the website ‘This Person Does Not Exist’, which generates realistic faces through artificial intelligence, for the profile picture. He also registered his candidate on Ballotpedia. Reputedly reliable, this website lists candidates for the U.S. election. Since December, Twitter has partnered with him to “use his expertise to identify the official campaign accounts of the candidates.” So it was a breeze to get certified for ‘Andrew Walz’. Alerted by CNN, Twitter has since deleted the fake account from the platform.
Worrying flaws in the run-up to election periods
History can be a smile. However, the ease with which a high school student was able to fool Twitter and Ballotpedia is worrisome. At no time was the young American asked for identity papers or official documents to verify Andrew Walz’s candidacy. However, the social network, criticized for its lax moderation of false information, announced in December a change in policy in order to protect voters from such manoeuvres. “The worst-case scenario would be to certify someone who is not actually a candidate,” one doorman even said on Twitter. It just happened. Even as some real candidates railed against the social network that had not certified them.
The young forger told CNN he wanted to test how social networks were trying to combat third-party interference in elections. Bored during the school holidays, he was interested in Russian interference in the 2016 US election, as well as the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The idea of the fake candidate would have come to him when he learned that Twitter would give a “blue pasille” to all candidates for the US Congress.