Up in the crow’s nest of the internet, Twitter users will soon be able to call “misinformation ahead”!
Twitter announced a new crowdsourced fact-checking initiative called “Birdwatch” Monday. The idea is that everyday Twitter users will be able to add contextual notes to tweets they think are misleading or contain misinformation.
The company said in a blog post that it wants to expand fact-checking beyond content that explicitly breaks its rules, and allow the community to provide more nuance than labels that deem something “true” or “false.” Anyone with a verified phone and email linked to their account, who hasn’t violated Twitter’s rules and has two-factor authentication enabled, can apply to become a Birdwatcher here.
“We want anyone to be able to participate and know that the more diverse the community, the better Birdwatch will be at effectively addressing misinformation,” the application page reads.
Birdwatch is a pilot program for now, and tweets with Birdwatch “context” live on a specific Twitter website. For now, you can only see the notes if you go to that site, but any Twitter user can peruse the site. As Twitter continues to test the idea, it plans to integrate Birdwatch notes into Twitter more broadly.
The public first learned about Twitter’s idea for crowdsourcing fact-checking in February 2020, but it apparently took at least a year to materialize.
Notes look different from regular old comments. At the bottom of a tweet in the Birdwatch portal, you can click on a link that says “See all notes on this tweet.” There you’ll see ratings like “Misinformed, or potentially misleading,” with a line of context and the public identity of the Birdwatcher.
Birdwatch sort of sounds like another system to be exploited by peddlers of misinformation or bad faith users who claim “anti-conservative bias” (a claim for which there is no proof). Anyone, once approved, can presumably write anything as a “note.”
However, the existence of Wikipedia — in which people devote their time and energy to providing accurate information for the public, just because — suggests that crowdsourcing facts has potential. Like Wikipedia editors, Twitter is considering giving Birdwatchers and their notes rankings via algorithms that determine “reputation and consensus.”
Then again, Wikipedia is also vulnerable to abuse.
The biggest step Twitter can take to fight misinformation is still to apply its own rules evenly to all users. It took a step in that direction when it banned Donald Trump. But even with Trump out of office and off of Twitter, misinformation on social media isn’t going anywhere.
As long as Birdwatch isn’t a way to pass the buck of preventing harmful content off of Twitter the company and onto users, testing out more tools to combat misinformation is probably a good thing. The internet needs all the help it can get.