Last year some sharp eyed social media reverse engineers found that Twitter was working on a new user-driven fact checking system called Birdwatch. Now the platform is ready to launch, in the US for now at least.
Currently being tested out by selected number of users Stateside, Birdwatch will look to tackle the large problem of misinformation that plagues a platform like Twitter. We have seen during the 2020 US Presidential elections that Twitter has taken a stronger stance on misinformation, but there is only so much policing it can do, which is what Birdwatch is designed to assist with.
“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,” explains Keith Coleman, VP of Product at Twitter.
“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,” he adds.
— Twitter Support (@TwitterSupport) January 25, 2021
Whether this system will work as intended remains to be seen, especially as Twitter can prove a difficult platform to police. It can also prove quite fractious when it comes to divisive issues, and if well coordinated, we could see instances where a user on Twitter is targeted as made out to be a spreader of misinformation.
We are of course hypothesising a worst case scenario, and in order to combat this, Twitter is looking to make the system that drives Birdwatch as transparent as possible.
“Our goal is to build Birdwatch in the open, and have it shaped by the Twitter community.
To that end, we’re also taking significant steps to make Birdwatch transparent:
- All data contributed to Birdwatch will be publicly available and downloadable in TSV files
- As we develop algorithms that power Birdwatch — such as reputation and consensus systems — we aim to publish that code publicly in the Birdwatch Guide. The initial ranking system for Birdwatch is already available here.”
Twitter also acknowledges that Birdwatch might be a solid system in theory, but could prove difficult to fully implement in practice, and as such says there will be some growing pains that its users will need to contend with in the coming months as the system is refined.
“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,” notes Coleman.
“We know this might be messy and have problems at times, but we believe this is a model worth trying,” he concludes.
As aforementioned, there is a newly created @Birdwatch account for this system, but actually using it remains unavailable in SA for now. It will be interesting to see how this user-driven fact checker takes shape in the coming months, especially as misinformation is here to stay.