COVID Misinformation Biggest Challenge For Twitter’s Birdwatch Program

As of October 6th, Twitter’s Birdwatch community moderation program has been expanded to all US users, The Verge reported.

Birdwatch was officially launched in beta in January 2021, and makes a step up on the platform’s efforts to reduce the spread of misinformation on the platform. But, as the scheme expands, data reviewed by The Verge suggests that the most common topics being fact-checked are already covered by Twitter’s misinformation policies, rising new questions as to the overall impact of the program.

According to The Verge, Twitter executives involved in the program have focused on easier decisions. Such as addressing statements that were not covered by Twitter’s misinformation polices or were not serious enough to be assigned to in-house fact-checking resources.

But cases from the beta phase of the program show that many Birdwatch users are attempting to tackle more serious misinformation issues on the platform and overlapping significantly with Twitter’s existing policies. Birdwatch data released by Twitter shows that COVID-related topics are by far the most common subject addressed in Birdwatch notes. The Verge reported that many of the accounts that posted the tweets have since been suspended, suggesting that Twitter’s internal review process is catching content violations and taking action.

Most common subject words in Birdwatch notes:

  • Covid – 4,348
  • Prediction – 3,226
  • Vaccine – 3,085
  • People- 2,922
  • Earthquake – 2,673
  • Election – 2,642
  • Trump – 2,562
  • Biden – 2,438
  • Scientific – 1,594
  • Better – 1,582

The Verge also noted that Birdwatch notes from 2021 addressed unproven or dangerous treatments for COVID, like ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine. Birdwatch users also found it easy to fact-check COVID myths like the virus was a hoax, is mostly harmless, or gets spread by 5G towers. However, other COVID claims can be harder to definitively correct.

Another thing that gets fact-checked by Birdwatch users are the words “earthquake” and “prediction”. The Verge clarified that there is no evidence that earthquakes can be reliably predicted, and noted that one Birdwatch user has been attaching a warning note to a steady stream of earthquake predictions in California posted by an account called @Quakeprediction.

Election information appears to be another issue that Birdwatch users are fact-checking. The Verge found many notes that contain the words “Trump,” “election,’ and “Biden”.

Tatiana Britt, a Twitter spokesperson, told The Verge: “Not all Tweets on topics such as COVID-19 or elections fall within our misinfo policies. As you’ll see in the ‘Rated Helpful’ tab on the Birdwatch site, most Birdwatch notes have been identified as Helpful and become visible across Twitter don’t overlap with content covered under Twitter’s misinfo policies.”

To me, it sounds as though many Birdwatch users are doing what Twitter hoped they would do – post notes to let other Twitter users know if a Tweet has included misleading information. Some Birdwatch users, however, aren’t as effective.