Twitter Takes a Unique Approach to Handling Misinformation with the Launch of Birdwatch

Twitter and Facebook have been in the epicenter of free speech and misinformation controversies for years. Both platforms adjusted their approach and stance during this election season as the public focused on the matter once again.

Twitter’s most recent effort to tackle the spread of misinformation, the launch of Birdwatch, was announced on Tuesday.

The approach lets users add notes to existing Tweets they believe to be misleading. In its current pilot stage, the note won’t be seen on the tweet directly but, instead, can be seen on a separate Birdwatch’s site. The pilot is currently being tested out in the US only. 

A large number of users already spend time bringing attention to misleading tweets through replies and quote tweets. The community-driven approach seeks to amplify different voices which would otherwise be limited. The notes can be used to correct, specify, or add helpful context which will help people better understand the information presented. 

Although there is an existing Birdwatch Guide, Twitter Team has opened the floor for a conversation for its development as well. The move seeks to enable community engagement and participation on all levels.

To date, we have conducted more than 100 qualitative interviews with individuals across the political spectrum who use Twitter, and we received broad general support for Birdwatch. In particular, people valued notes being in the community’s voice (rather than that of Twitter or a central authority) and appreciated that notes provided useful context to help them better understand and evaluate a Tweet (rather than focusing on labeling content as “true” or “false”). Our goal is to build Birdwatch in the open, and have it shaped by the Twitter community.

Inside Birdwatch, users can rate the notes on how helpful they found them to be, rather than just labeling something true or false. The original tweet on Twitter will display the Birdwatch icon next to it. Clicking on the icon will take the user directly to the note on Birdwatch. All data contributed to Birdwatch will be made publicly available and downloadable. 

Keith Coleman, Vice President of Product on Twitter said they know the project will have challenges and will be messy at times, but they are committed to opening the pilot to the public and work on it together. Among the challenges will be avoiding a simple majority or bias domination as well as building up the resistance to manipulation. In hopes of diminishing these dangers, Twitter has already started to include experts, social sciences and academic approaches to the development process. 

Fact-checking groups and organizations have gained popularity all over the world in the last decade as the lines between opinion articles and credible sources have nearly ceased to exist. According to Pew Research, in 2019, about four-in-ten Americans got their news from Facebook — and those numbers only continue to grow.

Social media has enabled the rapid spread of any information as anyone can access it easily and share it to their own connections. Recognizing false information has also led people to adjust their habits in using social media. In fact, 52% of people participating in the Pew Research said they had unfollowed a news source they thought was sharing made-up news and 31% admitted they occasionally click on the source even though they think the information might be misleading. However, organizations and companies dedicated to fact-checking can run into the same challenges around bias and control. Opening up the participation to almost anyone will lessen Twitter’s personal responsibility in secluded mishaps, but will drastically increase its responsibility in overarching control and guidance. 

To participate, individuals can sign up, choose “Contribute to Birdwatch” from the options menu on a tweet, acknowledge and agree to adhere to the values listed, follow the prompts and questions onscreen, and submit the note. Added notes can be deleted at any time. 

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