• Richard Forbes

Battling misinformation on social media

Recently, the Internet has become a troubling place for differentiating opinions and facts. Popularly known as “fake news,” misinformation seeks to persuade an audience to think in opposition to reality. As widespread as the issue may be, malicious misinformation has been shown to be relatively rare. According to Chris Meserole, director of research and policy at Facebook, misinformation tweets that go viral may not be because of the misinformation but because of the person’s title or publicity.

About Birdwatch

In January 2021, Vice President of Product at Twitter Keith Coleman announced that Twitter would launch Birdwatch, a pilot for community-driven identification of misinformation on the media platform. Twitter users in the United States are able to report tweets they believe to be misleading and write notes that provide informative context. Coleman said he believes this will allow Twitter to act quickly when misleading information spreads. There is no word on what will happen to posts or users that are identified as misleading.

In its first phase, Birdwatch will function on a separate site from Twitter. Here, pilot participants can rate the helpfulness of notes added by other users. Notes will reportedly not affect the way people see tweets in Birdwatch’s recommendations system.

As research prior to launch, Twitter collected more than 100 interviews with people across the political spectrum who use the platform. Twitter reportedly received broad support for the program. Its goal for the program is “to build Birdwatch in the open, and have it shaped by the Twitter community.”

To accomplish this goal of transparency, Twitter has taken a couple of steps to make the platform open. First, all data given to Birdwatch will be publicly available and downloadable. Second, Birdwatch’s algorithm and code will be published for users to see how reputation and consensus systems function.

How Birdwatch Could Affect the Internet

Many social media platforms already have public feedback systems: reports on TikTok, Facebook and Instagram or dislikes on YouTube. To avoid trolling and false ratings, Twitter has recruited academics and industry experts as consultants for these reports.

With the public being recruited for fact-checking responsibilities, could similar systems become the standard across social media platforms? Likely, it depends on the success of Birdwatch. If this new initiative flops, another brave platform will have to challenge the status quo. Twitter has come under fire for deleting tweets and blocking accounts, most prominently of former President Donald Trump.

As Birdwatch has only been publicly announced for a week, there is still more information to come. You can register for the pilot program here.

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