Twitter launches new fact-checking program: Birdwatch

Arts & Entertainment

Jakob Eiseman, Editor

Header Image: TechCrunch

Three weeks ago, the advisory board at the social media giant, Twitter, made the decision to permanently ban the user account of former U.S. President Donald Trump after he sent out several tweets that contained misinformation, inciting violence at the U.S. Capitol. Earlier this week, a program was opened up by Twitter’s board with hopes of stopping misinformation early on from any Twitter user, public or private. The move is being made with the hopes that it will stop any further crime from being committed by followers of those who spread misinformation on the platform.

The program is called Birdwatch, a play on the company’s mountain bluebird logo. Birdwatch was ruled out to a small group of users this week in order to test both its effectiveness as well as the technology behind it. The 1,000 or so users with access to Birdwatch can leave notes on tweets to provide context or to correct tweets containing misinformation. As of right now, the test notes can only be observed by Twitter’s staff and other Birdwatch members, but the goal is to expand this program to more people and enable all public Twitter users to see the notes.

Notes can be rated on their effectiveness by other Birdwatch members. The final product will function similar to Wikipedia’s community edit system in which many Birdwatchers can leave notes on a single tweet, and negatively rate notes that do not add context or are in themselves misinformed. A press release from Twitter details that they conducted “more than 100 qualitative interviews with individuals across the political spectrum who use Twitter, and we received broad general support for Birdwatch.” The feedback given in these interviews helped shape the program and helped choose participants for the pilot program.

Twitter confirmed the existence of Birdwatch last year, but it was not expected to be released this quickly, which has many users skeptical  of the effectiveness of the program. Only time will tell how Birdwatch shapes out when it is ruled out to the public, but for now, the team wants to keep everything as transparent as possible, with Birdwatch data being available to the public on its website and the code for the ranking system being available for free on GitHub.

The executives at Twitter have been very public in their efforts to combat misinformation without coming off as a suppressor of free speech after the banning of former President Trump, and Birdwatch is their effort to put the battle against propaganda in the public’s hands. Some political commentators see Birdwatch as a tool for Twitter to censor its users, and hide themselves from criticism by putting the responsibility on users rather than administrators. Others see Birdwatch as a bright future for a social media platform that is infamous for becoming a megaphone for conspiracy theorists and those that wish to spread lies.

For those interested in becoming a Birdwatcher, applications are open on their website.

Birdwatch Example

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