When former President Donald Trump was banned from Twitter due to misinformation and possible incitement of a riot, half the country took a deep sigh of relief and half the country was concerned about the First Amendment. No matter your viewpoint, such a high profile person being banned from a top social media network was something that caused many conversations to start, including major issues with social media and the spread of misinformation.
Birdwatch calls on Twitter users to hold others accountable.
In October 2020, Twitter teased that it was toying with a new feature — now called Birdwatch — that would help stop the spread of misinformation and disinformation. The feature is currently being piloted. It allows everyday Twitter users to point out tweets that could be believed to be misleading and dangerous to the community.
According to cnet, “The pilot forum allows Twitter users to identify information in tweets they believe to be misleading and add notes that provide helpful context."
Twitter believes Birdwatch will allow for the quicker takedown of misinformation.
With over 330 million active users, Twitter’s staff would have a difficult time trying to track down every tweet that could possibly have disinformation harmful to the common good. With Birdwatch, Twitter users would help take down this kind of content faster and essentially become freelance fact checkers.
Twitter’s top executives believe that a system like Birdwatch could also help bring trust back to the platform. "We believe this approach has the potential to respond quickly when misleading information spreads, adding context that people trust and find valuable," Keith Coleman, Twitter's vice president of product, said in a blog post.
Birdwatch plans to display notes from users on why certain tweets are marked as false.
With the idea of Birdwatch gaining steam since October 2020, many users have voiced concern about how the feature is asking for manipulation and confusion. The Birdwatch team believes they are ready to take on these potential problems.
"We know there are a number of challenges toward building a community-driven system like this — from making it resistant to manipulation attempts to ensuring it isn't dominated by a simple majority or biased based on its distribution of contributors," Coleman said in the blog post.
So, how will this essentially work? Twitter gave a fictional example of how Birdwatch would work in a tweet. Basically, a tweet shows the image of a press release stating a mayor's office wanted to convert all water fountains from still to sparkling. Twitter users weigh in with their own thoughts in the replies, saying the tweet is "misinformed or potentially misleading" because it contains content from an April Fools' prank.
In another video example, a fake user tweets how whales are not real and instead spies made by the government. The tweet gains traction, with many agreeing. Soon the tweet has so much organic authority just from retweets and replies. “Spoiler alert,” the video reads, “you can’t trust everything you read online.” Thus, Birdwatch was made.
Coleman also said Twitter eventually wants to make users’ notes visible directly on the tweets in question so that you’ll know exactly why the tweet has been marked for misinformation, but for now, they'll only be visible on a separate Birdwatch page.
Birdwatch's Twitter page is currently active. “Hi! We’re the team building Birdwatch,” their premiere tweet reads. “We believe that a transparent, community-driven approach to identifying misleading information and elevating helpful context can help us all create a better-informed world.”