Twitter trials community policing – what could go wrong?

Social media platform Twitter, famous for the measured and conciliatory attitude of its users, wants to let them annotate each other’s posts.

The new moderation system is called Birdwatch. “People come to Twitter to stay informed,” wrote Twitter VP of Product Keith Coleman, choosing to overlook the state of perpetual conflict between many of its users. “Birdwatch allows people to identify information in Tweets they believe is misleading and write notes that provide informative context.”

Information they believe is misleading eh? Hilariously Twitter is piloting this scheme in the US, where public discussion is so polarised that many people believe everything their opponents say is misleading, by definition. During the trial the informative notes will only be visible through a special site, but we can already imagine how constructive most of them will be if this ever makes it onto the main platform.

To be fair, Twitter is going into this with its eyes open. “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,” wrote Coleman. “We know this might be messy and have problems at times, but we believe this is a model worth trying.”

We suspect that will prove to be a massive understatement, but you can’t fault Twitter for trying stuff out. It’s currently stuck between a rock and a hard place with commercial partners and politicians pushing for greater censorship, but many users fleeing to alternative platforms that have less of it.

Ironically community policing is the preferred moderation method of one of those – Parler – which AWS considered reason enough to kick it off the internet. Perhaps Twitter thinks AWS will apply different standards to Birdwatch.

Twitter is trying to bring some kind of ‘wiki’ functionality to the site but it’s hard to imagine this experiment being anything other than a complete farce. Social media companies would presumably love to make their platforms self-policing, but they’ve left it far too late to attempt that switch. Community censorship is still censorship and thus still suffers from the same problems of subjectivity, bias, bad faith and human error as all other forms, as some Twitter users have pointed out.

One comment

  1. Avatar Professor Peter Curwen 26/01/2021 @ 5:13 pm

    I have a simple solution. Just don’t use social media.

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