If the last few years of online life have taught us anything, it’s that misinformation has become one of the defining issues of our time. This was abundantly clear during the 2020 US election, and we all saw Twitter’s attempts to combat the problem by adding notes to Tweets warning of false claims and untruths. Doing that kind of moderation on a large scale is much more difficult, so Twitter plans to trial a community-driven approach that leverages the hive mind of its millions of uses.
Through Birdwatch, participants will be able to flag content they believe to be misleading. They will do this by writing notes that other users will rate the usefulness of, a system that hopefully won’t be too easy to manipulate. Participants must keep the Birdwatch values in mind at all times — it’s all about building misunderstanding, acting in good faith, and being helpful to everyone, whether you agree with their opinions or not.
The pilot will be limited to a small number of test users in the US. If you’d like to sign up, you can do so here. If accepted, you’ll see a ‘Contribute to Birdwatch’ option in the menu for each tweet. Writing notes will consist of several multiple-choice questions and a text field for context and citing sources. Your note will then be accessible from the separate Birdwatch site (only visible in the US) so that other testers can rate it based on how helpful they think it will be to the wider Twitter community. Notes deemed most helpful will rise to the top of Birdwatch, and these are the ones that could eventually end up showing up on the tweets we all see — for now, Birdwatch content will remain separate while in its trial phase.
Twitter says its received broad support for Birdwatch in conversations with users across the political spectrum, although it’s likely to be a bumpy road ahead. The system will be built and maintained out in the open, with all contributed data made available for download and all code publicly visible as part of the Birdwatch Guide. This will allow the community to offer up useful feedback and could even help to protect Twitter from the continuing accusations of bias that will surely follow.
A member of the University of Chicago’s Center for RISC will be embedded on the Birdwatch team and various social science and academic opinions will be sought throughout the pilot, which shows that Twitter is serious about creating a fair and genuinely helpful community moderation platform. Now we wait to see how the project develops — follow the @Birdwatch account for news about its progress.