On June 27 Bree Newsome, an activist and filmmaker, scaled the flagpole in front of South Carolina’s Capitol building and tore down the Confederate flag. Predictably, Newsome’s actions were met with hostility from local police who demanded that she leave the flag be and descend from the pole. Newsome could not be moved.
“You come against me with hatred, oppression, and violence,” she declared. “I come against you in the name of God. This flag comes down today. ”
As soon as Newsome was back on the ground, Confederate flag in hand, she was arrested by Columbia PD, and soon after, the hashtag #FreeBree took over Twitter. Newsome’s role as a symbol for the fight against trenchant racism in the South was solidified. And because so much of the support for Newsome and the conversation around her took place on Twitter, people have begun to call for Twitter to verify her account.
Verification on Twitter is a tricky sort of digital cultural cache. Officially, Twitter says that it verifies certain accounts in order to “establish authenticity of identities of key individuals and brands." Celebrities, athletes, artists, and journalists are often verified by Twitter for reasons that aren’t exactly clear to most. Some are well known (others, less so) but it’s rare that they’re as iconic in a social movement as Newsome.
I need to get verified on Twitter so I can get some hoes…
— LSK @ TwitchCon (@IamKrisLondon) July 4, 2015
In most instances, Twitter verification is little more than an ego boost for people who fancy themselves as high-profile members of the Twitterati. For figures like Newsome, though, verification is a statement (it also serves another helpful purpose: it weeds out fake accounts.)
Newsome has (literally) positioned herself as someone at the heart of America's modern civil rights movement. She holds a large amount of cache with the the politically minded and Black Twitter, but there are still many who don't know who she is, or why her actions were so important.
Much of the organization around #BlackLivesMatter and other movements sparked by recent instances of police brutality in the U.S. has happened on Twitter. The platform is being used to communicate, mobilize, and signal-boost important information that has led to powerful protests.
If Twitter is an important locus of current black political conversations, then there is a power in recognizing those movements' leaders when they decide to use the platform. Verifying Newsome isn't just about acknowledging the individual things she's done, it's about acknowledging and respecting the larger movement that she's a part of.