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Twitter launches Birdwatch, a fact-checking program intended to fight misinformation

The program, currently open to a small group of users, will add context notes to tweets

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Twitter has launched its Birdwatch program, meant to address misinformation on the platform by allowing users to fact-check tweets, the company announced Monday. Users in the pilot program, which will only include about 1,000 users in the US to start, will eventually be able to add notes to tweets to provide context.

For now, users participating in the pilot can write notes on individual tweets, but the notes won’t be publicly visible on Twitter itself, only on the public Birdwatch website. Pilot users can also rate notes submitted by other participants in the program there.

Here’s an example of what a tweet with the Birdwatch notes would look like:

An example of what tweets with Birdwatch notes would look like.
Image: Twitter

“We believe this approach has the potential to respond quickly when misleading information spreads, adding context that people trust and find valuable,” Twitter VP of product Keith Coleman wrote in a blog post. “Eventually we aim to make notes visible directly on Tweets for the global Twitter audience, when there is consensus from a broad and diverse set of contributors.”

Twitter first confirmed it was working on Birdwatch last year, but it was not expected to release the program ahead of the US presidential election.

Like most social media companies, Twitter has grappled with the spread of misinformation and propaganda across its platform. The company took steps to try to combat election misinformation during the US presidential campaign and after by labeling tweets with wrong or misleading information about the election. The program had mixed results, however, and did not appear to act as a deterrent to former President Trump, whose account was permanently suspended in January.

Twitter says it has interviewed more than 100 people across the political spectrum, who told the company that the Birdwatch notes provided useful context to better understand the tweets. “Our goal is to build Birdwatch in the open, and have it shaped by the Twitter community,” Coleman wrote.

All data contributed to Birdwatch will be available and downloadable in TSV files, and Twitter will publish the algorithms that power the program publicly in a Birdwatch Guide, the company said. The initial ranking system is available at Twitter’s GitHub page.

“We know there are a number of challenges toward building a community-driven system like this — from making it resistant to manipulation attempts to ensuring it isn’t dominated by a simple majority or biased based on its distribution of contributors,” Coleman noted. “We’ll be focused on these things throughout the pilot.”

To sign up to participate in Birdwatch, users can apply here.