On Birdwatch, no account and no tweet is exempt from annotation, meaning users can “add context” to tweets posted by news outlets, reporters and elected officials.
Birdwatch allows users to identify information in tweets that they believe are misleading or false, and write notes or notations to those tweets in a way they feel is providing “informative context.”
Participants will be able to cite source material in their annotation, including from news outlets — meaning users can annotate one news outlet’s tweets by citing other news outlets’ tweets.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who has been a leading voice in the Senate on the issue of Big Tech and free speech, slammed Twitter.
“Empowering self-proclaimed ‘fact checkers’ and leftist Silicon Valley billionaires to dictate what is ‘misleading,’ only confirms what the American people already know to be true: Big Tech is designating itself to be the sole arbiter of truth and is using its power to silence dissent,” Cruz told Fox News.
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., commented that Twitter users currently have the ability fact-check others: “I thought that’s what people already did on Twitter.”
“I’m all for freedom of speech and expression,” Johnson said. “I just wish Twitter was.”
House Oversight Committee Ranking Member James Comer, R-Ky., raised questions as to whether Birdwatch could further silence conservatives and end up “stifling free speech.”
“Twitter has long acted unilaterally to decide what content is and is not valid and factual,” Comer told Fox News. “Only time will tell if Birdwatch is successful in having a positive impact on a platform known for silencing conservatives or if this community-driven effort will end up stifling free speech the way Twitter has done in the recent past.”
After Twitter unveiled Birdwatch on Monday, a number of House Republicans tweeted their initial reactions.
“Anyone think Twitter will actually use this feature fairly?” House Judiciary Committee Republicans tweeted.
“Crowd-sourced censorship…what could go wrong?” Rep. Ken Buck, R-Co., tweeted.
And Rep. Dan Bishop, R-N.C., added: “Twitter turns libs into army of censors. Feeling very 1984…”
Twitter told Fox News that the company is “not doing a fact check” with Birdwatch and said that it is “not a true-or-false tool,” but instead, a way to “add context.”
“We know people come to Twitter to stay informed, and they want credible information to help them do so,” Twitter VP of Product Keith Coleman said. “We apply labels and add context to Tweets, but we don’t want to limit efforts to circumstances where something breaks our rules or receives widespread public attention.”
Coleman said Twitter wants to “broaden the range of voices that are part of tackling this problem,” and said the Big Tech giant believes “a community-driven approach can help.”
Birdwatch is only in its pilot phase beginning Monday and only 1,000 users will be chosen to participate at first.
“We want to invite anyone to sign up and participate in this program, and know that the broader and more diverse the group, the better Birdwatch will be at effectively addressing misinformation,” Coleman told Fox News.
To be admitted, a user must be located in the United States, have a verified email, a verified U.S. phone number, and no violations of Twitter policies within the last year. Twitter told Fox News that if a user has broken the rules or had their accounts suspended, that would be “disqualifying” to be considered for the pilot.
It is unclear when the new tools could become available for all Twitter users.
The company acknowledged that the pilot “might be messy and have problems at times” but said they “believe this is a model worth trying.”
“We know there are a number of challenges toward building a community-driven system like this,” Coleman said, addressing the potential for the tool to be manipulated and the potential for it to be “dominated by a simple majority or biased based on its distribution of contributors.”
“We want people to write for a different audience than they do on Twitter,” Jonah Grant, Twitter’s staff software engineer, said. “We want people to be helpful, even for those who disagree.”
Coleman added that on main Twitter, a user’s audience is their followers, which he said are typically “people who already agree with you.”
“Birdwatch is a different mindset,” Coleman said, adding that a user is “contributing to everyone,” including for those “who may not share the same perspective.”
Meanwhile, Coleman said that Twitter has conducted “more than 100 qualitative interviews” with individuals “across the political spectrum who use Twitter,” and said they “received broad general support for Birdwatch.”
“People valued notes being in the community’s voice (rather than that of Twitter or a central authority) and appreciated that notes provided useful context to help them better understand and evaluate a tweet (rather than focusing on labeling content as ‘true’ or false’),” Coleman said.
Twitter’s goal is to build Birdwatch “in the open” and have it shaped by the Twitter community, but also said it was taking “significant steps” to make Birdwatch “transparent,” by making the data contributing to Birdwatch publicly available and downloadable.
Birdwatch comes as Twitter has taken a more aggressive approach to misinformation on the platform.
Twitter Senior Director of Public Policy Strategy and Development Nick Pickles said the company, for over a year, has focused on research and public commentary that outlined what Twitter users were looking for with regard to misinformation.
“The key thing we heard was they wanted Twitter to provide them with more context on misleading information and remove harmful information,” Pickles said.
Twitter, in recent months, has taken action to expand a number of their policies to monitor misleading information — specifically surrounding the 2020 presidential election and coronavirus vaccines.
And earlier this month, Twitter permanently suspended former President Donald Trump from the platform, after the company said he violated their policies. The move provoked the ire of some who claimed conservative speech was being censored by the tech giant.
Also earlier this month, Twitter suspended more than 70,000 accounts that were engaged in sharing “harmful QAnon-associated content,” which they say were dedicated to “the propagation of this conspiracy theory” across the platform.
Pickles explained that Twitter began applying labels and removing certain misleading content in a way that has made people “pause.”
“We recognize these solutions don’t solve,” Pickles said, pointing to the “challenges of fact checking,” but said Birdwatch is “reflective of this approach.”
Pickles said there is a “desire” for people on Twitter to “move quickly” and provide more context to potentially misleading information.
“People want to be part of the conversation on what sources are credible to give people more context,” Pickles said.
“We’re excited about it,” Coleman said, adding that the company does not want to “stop at the boundaries of where our policies are.”
“We want to give more people voice in the process in deciding when to add context, and deciding what that context says,” Coleman said, underscoring that there is more trust behind a community-based approach “than when it is done by any singular institution or tech company.”