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Twitter was tricked into verifying a fake 2020 candidate, report says

A high school student tells CNN it took him less than 30 minutes to create the fake congressional candidate.

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Twitter says the fake account has been permanently suspended.

James Martin/CNET
This story is part of Elections 2020, CNET's full coverage of the 2020 elections.

Andrew Walz, a Republican running for Congress in Rhode Island, reportedly got one of Twitter's coveted blue check marks. The problem? Walz isn't real. 

It took a high school student in New York less than 30 minutes to create a campaign website and Twitter account for the fake congressional candidate, according to a Friday report by CNN. The 17-year-old also reportedly submitted info on the fake candidate to Ballotpedia, a nonprofit Twitter works with to identify people running for office. 

The teen told CNN that neither Twitter nor Ballotpedia asked for identification or documentation to prove Andrew Walz was a real candidate (or even a real person). 

"I had no malicious intent," the student told CNN. "I just wanted to simply test to see whether this could happen," he said, adding that Twitter can now take steps to prevent someone with "bad intentions" from doing the same thing. 

The Twitter account for the fake candidate is now suspended, and a note on Ballotpedia says a profile for Walz was removed Friday after the nonprofit learned he "was not a legitimate candidate for office." Twitter says it has a rigorous process in place to ensure it accurately verifies candidates' legitimate accounts. 

"Unfortunately, an individual found loopholes in our process by submitting a fake candidate and a fake account for verification," said a Twitter spokesperson. "The creation of a fake candidate account is in violation of our rules and the account has been permanently suspended." 

Twitter has taken several steps to protect conversations around the 2020 US presidential election, after Russian trolls used tech platforms to meddle in the 2016 election. In December, Twitter said it would start using a "verified" badge to identify candidates who qualify for a primary ballot in US House, Senate and gubernatorial races. So far, nearly 1,500 accounts have been verified, according to Twitter. 

Last month, Twitter rolled out a tool to let people report misleading information about the 2020 US election. Twitter has also stopped selling ads concerning candidates for office, elections or political issues. 

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