By Naveen Athrappully
Following last month’s expansion of Twitter’s crowdsourced “fact-checking” program known as Birdwatch, content monitors will now be able to leave publicly visible notes regarding tweets, according to a recent announcement from the social media platform.
“Context on Tweets—by the people, for the people—is coming to everyone in the US. It’s open, transparent, and we’ve consistently seen notes be found helpful and informative even by people who often disagree,” said the company in an Oct. 6 tweet. Notes will be visible to all participating members of the Birdwatch program in the country. Birdwatch had around 15,000 contributors during the pilot testing phase, with plans to add around 1,000 more per week.
According to a video posted by the company, “some tweets can be misleading or miss important context.” In this case, Birdwatch contributors “propose notes that add context to tweets,” following which “notes are then rated by other contributors.”
Twitter claims that decisions aren’t enforced by “majority rules,” but “Birdwatch finds notes that are helpful to people with different points of view,” and “adds them as context to the tweet.”
A Layer of ‘Facts’
Birdwatch is an additional layer of “facts” put on tweets that do not violate existing rules. It’s mostly for content that the company considers “misinformation,” and could range from science and politics to entertainment and random bits of information.
Birdwatch notes are not written by Twitter Inc., said the company, to ensure that diverse groups of people can help identify misleading information. When contributors identify a Birdwatch note as “helpful” or “not helpful,” Twitter algorithm gives more precedence to the diversity in perspectives rather than the majority opinion.
Based on survey results by the company, a user is 20–40 percent less likely to agree with a tweet containing potentially misleading information when it features Birdwatch notes. Twitter claims that a user is 15–35 percent less likely to Like or Retweet a tweet with a Birdwatch note.
The Musk Deal
Twitter’s deal with Elon Musk, if it goes through, will put the project’s future into question as Musk has called for stopping the censoring of free speech on the platform.
“My tweets are being suppressed!” Musk said in a recent tweet last month, tagging Twitter CEO Parag Agarwal and the Blue Check Verified team.
A judge had approved the Tesla CEO’s request and halted an expedited trial scheduled for Oct. 17 to help the billionaire close the deal and acquire the platform for $44 billion. The judge said that the deal needs to be closed by Oct. 28 or the trial will happen in November. Twitter remains hesitant on closing the deal by that time.
Regarding censorship, and specifically about Trump, Musk called the decision on censoring the former president “flat-out stupid,” and said that “it alienated a large part of the country and did not ultimately result in Donald Trump not having a voice.”
Musk said he would “reverse the perma-ban” on Trump’s account.
Twitter’s timing in launching Birdwatch is notable, given the upcoming midterm elections.
Long considered a global “town square,” the platform gives the appearance of acting arbitrarily and autocratically in its banning of sources and content that goes in opposition to its corporate ideology, said Jeffrey McCall, professor of communications at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana.
“There is no question that Twitter’s free speech policies, or perhaps more accurately, lack of free speech, has diminished Twitter’s value both financially and in terms of reputation. Twitter has never been very transparent about its procedures and its credibility has taken a hit because of apparent bias and suppression,” McCall said.
Michael Washburn contributed to this report.