August 1, 2021

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Twitter Announces Birdwatch – Volunteer Program Against Misinformation via @martinibuster

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Twitter announced a new anti-misinformation initiative. The plan is to use a transparent community-based approach to identifying misinformation. This is a pilot program restricted to the United States.

Twitter Birdwatch

Birdwatch is a system where contributors create “notes” about misinformation found on tweets. The notes are meant to provide context.

The notes will initially not be visible from the tweets but exist on a separate site located on a subdomain of Twitter (birdwatch.twitter.com) that currently redirects to twitter.com/i/birdwatch.

The goal is to eventually show the notes on the tweets that are judged to contain misinformation.

That way Twitter community members can be made aware of the low quality of a tweet.

Community Approach

What Twitter is proposing is a passive form of content moderation.

Many forums and social media sites (including Twitter) have a way for members to report a post when it is problematic in some way. Typical reasons for reporting a post can be spam, bullying, or misinformation.

This is a passive form of moderating content in a community, which is the form of moderation that Twitter is taking.

Community-driven moderation is a more proactive step because members, usually called moderators, can delete or edit a problematic post.

Birdwatch’s approach is limited to creating notes about a problematic post. Contributors will not be able to actually remove a bad post.

According to Twitter:

“Birdwatch allows people to identify information in Tweets they believe is misleading and write notes that provide informative context. We believe this approach has the potential to respond quickly when misleading information spreads, adding context that people trust and find valuable.

Eventually we aim to make notes visible directly on Tweets for the global Twitter audience, when there is consensus from a broad and diverse set of contributors.”

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Example of How Birdwatch Works

Birdwatch has three components:

  1. Notes
  2. Ratings
  3. Birdwatch site

Birdwatch Notes

Birdwatch community moderators attach notes to tweets they judge to be problematic. The note process begins with clicking the three dot menu and selecting the Notes option.

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Thereafter the note process involves answering multiple choice questions and adding feedback within a text area.

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Example of Twitter Birdwatch Notes

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Here is an example of a helpful Birdwatch note:

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This is an example of an unhelpful Birdwatch note:

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Note Ranking

The next component of Birdwatch is community ranking of each other’s notes. This is a way for members to upvote or downvote rankings so that the best ranked notes can be selected as representative of an accurate note.

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This is a way for the community to self-moderate notes so that only the best and non-manipulative notes make it to the top.

Transparency of Twitter Birdwatch

The Birdwatch system is transparent. That means all the data is available to be downloaded and viewed by anyone from the Birdwatch Download page.

Try It and See Approach

Twitter acknowledges that the pilot program is a work in process and that issues such as malicious efforts to manipulate the program are things that will have to be dealt with as they turn up.

Twitter did not, however, offer a plan for dealing with community manipulation.

This is their statement:

“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. We’ll be focused on these things throughout the pilot.”

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This seems like an ad-hoc approach to dealing with problems as they arise as opposed to anticipating them and having a plan in place to deal with them.

Community-driven Fight Against Misinformation

I have almost twenty years of experience moderating and running forums. In my experience, community administrators identify trustworthy members and make them moderators, allowing the volunteer members to help run the community themselves.

In a healthy community, moderators do not function like police who are enforcing rules. In a well-operated community moderators are more like servants that help the community function better.

What Twitter is proposing falls short of true moderation. It’s more of an attempt to provide trustworthy feedback on problematic posts that contain misinformation.

Citations

Read the official announcement:
Introducing Birdwatch, a Community-based Approach to Misinformation

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Sign up for Birdwatch
http://twitter.github.io/birdwatch/join

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