After expanding Twitter’s fact-checking program, known as Birdwatch, last month, Twitter was announced this morning the notes left by fact-checkers on tweets will now be visible to all US users. However, that doesn’t mean everyone in the US will be able to participate in Birdwatch. The service had about 15,000 contributors during its pilot testing phase and planned to add about 1,000 more a week, Twitter said in September. If Twitter continued with that goal, it would have grown to about 19,000 contributors as of this week.
The idea with Birdwatch is to add a layer of data and context control to tweets that don’t necessarily violate Twitter’s rules. Instead, it can wade into gray areas to tackle misinformation on a range of topics beyond politics and science to clarify, correct or add more information to tweets in areas such as health, sports, entertainment and other random curiosities that pop up online — like whether or not someone just tweeted a photo of a human-sized batTwitter recently explained.
A key aspect of how this system works is Birdwatch’s bridging algorithm. This differs from typical social media algorithms that rank higher or approve based on whether or not there is majority consensus, those that rank content higher when it reaches a certain level of engagement. Instead, Birdwatch’s algorithm looks to find consensus among groups where there are differing opinions, before highlighting crowdsourced data checks on other Twitter users.
To become a Birdwatch contributor, users must first prove they are capable of writing annotations — the annotations on tweets that provide further context. To determine this, Twitter assigns each potential contributor a “rating” score. This score starts at zero and must reach a “5” to become a Birdwatch contributor — a metric that is likely to be achieved after a week’s work. (The score itself may exceed 5 over time). Users earn points by rating Birdwatch notes that allow the note to earn a “Useful” or “Not Useful” status. They lose points when their score ends up at odds with the final state of the bill.
Once the user has unlocked the ability to write their own Birdwatch notes, they can start adding contributions and data checks. However, the quality of their work could see them lose partner status again, Twitter said. In other words, someone couldn’t get into the system by playing by the rules, then use their partner status to boost or spread misinformation — they’d be kicked out and have to prove themselves again to rejoin never.
The timing of Birdwatch’s US expansion is notable, given the upcoming midterm elections. But it also comes as potential Twitter buyer Elon Musk now appears keen to complete the deal. (Or at least stop the courts from reading more of his texts!) Musk’s ownership, of course, raises questions about whether projects like Birdwatch will continue, given Musk’s desire to make Twitter more of a “free speech” platform ». It’s unclear whether he’ll think that means reducing Twitter’s content moderation capabilities, or whether he’d also like to crack down on a crowdsourced fact-checking system like this one.
In announcing the news this morning, Twitter’s Birdwatch account noted that, during testing, Birdwatch notes were found useful by a wide range of people, were perceived as informative regardless of users’ political beliefs, and informed users’ sharing behavior as people who saw a note choose to do ” like” or retweet the tweet 15-35% less, on average.
Twitter says US users will start seeing notes occasionally in their Twitter feeds, starting today. However, they won’t show up all the time, as notes only appear when they’ve earned the “Useful” status, the company notes.