In the digital age, anyone can find information with just a few clicks, especially through social media. Unfortunately, this has led to a rise in people using their social media platforms to spread false information or better known as fake news. Twitter has recently come out with a new feature that will help to detect fake news, which is Birdwatch.
Keith Coleman, Twitter’s vice president or product, explained in a press release that Birdwatch will allow Twitter users to identify and mark any tweets that contain misinformation, along with providing notes to explain what the information is in the tweet.
“We believe this approach has the potential to respond quickly when misleading information spreads, adding context that people trust and find valuable,” Coleman said.
According to NBC News, this new feature is meant to be a stand-alone section that will be made available to a small group of Twitter users. Birdwatch will not be made available for those with high-profile accounts and “traditional fact-checkers.” Also, in order for Twitter users to access this new feature, their account must be connected to an actual phone number and email address.
According to Dr. Nune Grigoryan, digital communications and social media professor at Cabrini, Twitter has come out with at least five new features since January of this year.
“[Birdwatch] is basically Twitter’s attempt to fight misinformation on social media, and specifically on Twitter because Twitter is the essential platform for where people get their news,” Grigoryan said. “They feel like they have the obligation to make it as friendly and useful as possible, so it is kind of an approach where [it is] a community-based approach where they want users to take control over regulating that information instead of Twitter deciding what should go and what should stay.”
Though Birdwatch provides more freedom to its users to determine what is real news versus fake news, there are both pros and cons to this new feature. According to Grigoryan, a major pro of Birdwatch is that it allows the users to decide what is false information instead of being told what is false information and what is true information, which she believes is a very proactive approach compared to other social media platforms. Grigoryan further explained that there are cons to Birdwatch as well such as people abusing this new feature along with not everyone being media literate.
“They sometimes don’t even know that it is false information or misinformation, and they won’t even be able to use Birdwatch because they won’t have the skill set to recognize what is false,” Grigoryan said.
According to NBC News, the Birdwatch section allows users to use a format similar to Reddit’s and Wikipedia’s moderation tools in order to discuss and rate tweets. Birdwatch users will be able to flag tweets that can be seen on Twitter’s main interface, but all discussions about questionable tweets will remain within the Birdwatch section for only Birdwatch users to see. Birdwatch users will also be able to rate other Birdwatch users’ notes as a way to prevent anyone from abusing Twitter’s new feature. Though with any new social media features, Birdwatch will face some challenges in the beginning.
“I think one of the challenges to start with is going to be recruiting people because it takes time to sit there and verify and to read and to make notes. That’s labor,” Grigoryan said. “And because it is a new product, a lot of people will not trust it in the beginning.”
Despite some of the challenges this new feature faces, Grigoryan is hopeful that Birdwatch will help slow the spread of misinformation on Twitter and believes Birdwatch is an important feature for the social media platform.