Twitter’s ‘Birdwatch’ looks like a new attempt to root out propaganda and misinformation

Twitter will remove deceptive COVID-19-comparable tweets that would incite other folks to interact in ‘destructive activity’

Twitter has confirmed it’s working on a new feature, currently dubbed “Birdwatch,” that could let the Twitter community warn one another about misleading tweets that could cause harm.

There’s an awful lot we don’t know about the idea, including whether Twitter will actually release it to the public or how it might work in its final form, but enough has leaked out that we do have a pretty fair glimpse at the feature — which, we understand, is still early in development and would not be released ahead of the US election.

As TechCrunch notes, the existence of such a tool was first discovered by Jane Manchun Wong, who often digs through app code for evidence of unreleased features, back in August. At a basic level, the idea is that you’ll be able to attach a note to a misleading tweet:

Twitter is working on a moderation tool to monitor misinformations on Twitter

Moderators can flag tweets, vote on whether it is misleading, and add a note about it

(I made up my own note to show what it currently looks like) pic.twitter.com/YIa6zt58Fj

— Jane Manchun Wong (@wongmjane) August 5, 2020

And as of late September, social media consultant Matt Navarra spotted a dedicated “Add to Birdwatch” button below a piece of content he’d tweeted:

MORE INFO about Twitter’s ‘Birdwatch’ feature spotted.

Looks like it allows you to attach notes to a tweet.

May allow you to create public and private notes. pic.twitter.com/GNGEg2AmwT

— Matt Navarra (@MattNavarra) October 1, 2020

As of October 3rd, Birdwatch even appears to have its own miniature survey to fill out as you’re reporting a piece of content, with options to take either side (misleading/not misleading) in the debate about a particular piece of information, as well as drilling down to how much harm you believe the tweet might cause:

I suppose this is a good time to offer a reminder that we’ve love the opportunity to work with you

On Birdwatch, excited to share more about our plans here soon.

— Kayvon Beykpour (@kayvz) October 3, 2020

And as you can see in the reply to Jane Manchun Wong’s tweet above, Twitter’s own product lead has weighed in — he says Twitter will “share more about our plans here soon.”

It’s far too early to judge if this feature might have an impact, particularly since it’s not clear if Twitter’s moderators or algorithms will act on the results. The questionnaire does seem to go further than Twitter’s current reporting tools, which basically just ask you to categorize your complaint with a couple button presses and hope that Twitter’s moderation team will respond appropriately.

Twitter took a lot of flak on Friday and Saturday after confirming that it would suspend users who publicly hope for President Trump’s death, particularly after it tweeted that it’s simply enforcing a policy that applies to everyone.

tweets that wish or hope for death, serious bodily harm or fatal disease against *anyone* are not allowed and will need to be removed. this does not automatically mean suspension. https://t.co/lQ8wWGL2y0 https://t.co/P2vGfUeUQf

— Twitter Comms (@TwitterComms) October 2, 2020

The tweet got ratio’d big time, particularly by women and members of other groups that often receive death threats and other forms of harassment for voicing their views. (I’m omitting specific examples so they don’t get targeted yet again.)

Twitter attempted to reassure those users with a new thread on Saturday that promised most consistent enforcement, and “action, not empty words”.

We hear the voices who feel that we’re enforcing some policies inconsistently. We agree we must do better, and we are working together inside to do so.

— Twitter Safety (@TwitterSafety) October 3, 2020

It’ll be interesting to see if Birdwatch will be a meaningful action — or just another place on Twitter for warring factions to debate the difference between lies and alternative facts.

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