Twitter last year was said to be testing out a range of moderation features aimed at controlling questionable content on the site. The company had seen its eponymous social media service become a hotbed of misinformation, disinformation and was determined to do something about it. During the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic and later the 2020 U.S. Presidential elections, it started with a labeling feature where it could direct users to pertinent information on controversial topics. If someone strove to misinform about the either of the topics, Twitter would stick a label under their tweet so readers could know where to look for more information. Now, the company is trying out a new approach and pulling from the community for help.
Dubbed BirdWatch, Twitter’s new approach to content control will let users identify misleading or out-of-context information in Tweets and directly add their own contextual information that exlplains why their information is misleading. Twitter says that “people valued notes being in the community’s voice (rather than that of Twitter or a central authority) and appreciated that notes provided useful context to help them better understand and evaluate a Tweet (rather than focusing on labeling content as “true” or “false”).”
Notes by Birdwatchers won’t be immediately visible on the main Twitter app, but the company will host a separate Birdwatch site for this. At the same time, while Birdwatchers will be rating tweets, fellow Birdwatchers will be rating each other. This is so Twitter can learn how to make the service more helpful. More obviously, it’s to allow the company to suss out which users are being helpful ad which ones are there to muddy the waters. Twitter says as much, noting it’ll be focused on challenges like “making it resistant to manipulation attempts to ensuring it isn’t dominated by a simple majority or biased based on its distribution of contributors.”
Content moderation is a tricky thing. Do it too much, and some will argue that you veer too much towards censorship. Do too little of it, and you find yourself shunned by the internet at large as questionable content finds a home on your platform. Birdwatch is one way of tackling that problem while keeping yourself insulated from blowback at the same time.
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