Twitter (now known as X) is a double-edged sword in the world of social networks. Its ease of use combined with the immediacy with which a tweet can spread made it a highly lucrative way to spread misinformation and disinformation. But how did it get this way and what’s being done today to help improve the accuracy and credibility of the platform as a whole?
The Early Days of Twitter
Founded in 2006, Twitter started as a microblogging site designed to allow users to share tweets of up to 280 characters. As of 2022, the site has 330 million active users and has firmly established itself as a well-known hub for breaking news, political campaigns, grassroots movements and even celebrity updates.
Its ability to share rapid-fire communication has also made it a hotbed for sharing misinformation, false and misleading information. But what is it specifically about Twitter that makes it “ground zero” for disinformation campaigns?
The Rise of Misinformation
Twitter makes it astoundingly easy to share misinformation and launch disinformation campaigns. According to a study from MIT, falsehoods are 70% more likely to spread on the platform than accurate information. Why? Researchers believe it’s because misinformation often appeals to emotion and this sensational appeal is what makes the content more shareable.
Another reason why misinformation spreads so readily on Twitter is due to high-profile spreading. Misinformation isn’t just limited to your average, anonymous user. Politicians, celebrities and other prominent figures have (often without realizing it) shared unverified information which widened its reach considerably.
What’s Being Done About Misinformation and Disinformation on Twitter?
Because of its reputation as a target for misinformation and disinformation, many independent organizations, journalists and even Twitter/X itself have taken steps to proactively fight back.
In 2020, Twitter introduced warnings and labels for tweets that contained disputed or misleading information. These labels would often redirect users to a curated page or a more trusted source that provided more context.
In addition to Twitter’s own initiatives, independent fact checkers also congregate on the platform and groups like PolitiFact, FactCheck.org and Snopes all have a presence there. Users also contribute to fact checking on the site by challenging or correcting misleading tweets, creating a more decentralized countermeasure to misinformation or blatant disinformation.
Fact-Checking Limitations on Twitter
As you might imagine, Twitter/X, just like any platform, faces its own unique share of limitations when it comes to doing a Twitter fact check. For example, the very presence of a label or warning encourages users to stop and consider before they share something blatantly false. This type of warning is effective for modifying user behavior in some cases, but not all.
Other users, who are entrenched in their own deeply-held beliefs, look at fact-check labels as an extension of censorship and bias which further solidifies their confirmation bias. And although fact-checking has increased in speed and quality due to AI, machine learning and other technological advances, the speed of information is still too great to be able to fact check Twitter each and every time a tweet is posted or shared.
How to Fact Check Twitter
The process to fact check Twitter is nearly identical to any other platform or questionable piece of content you come in contact with: Follow these steps to fact check Twitter posts:
Evaluate the Source - Is the source Verified? What do their past tweets, followers and post history look like? Just as you’d evaluate an author’s credibility to fact-check a social media post, so too can you evaluate the source of a tweet.
Check the Content Itself - Check the links provided and see if the source of the links is a trustworthy one. Use Google Reverse Image Search to trace the origin of an image, or scrutinize a video to see if it looks as if it has been doctored or edited.
Check Specific Claims - Many claims on Twitter will mention a specific study or university. Look for that study on the university’s website or based on the title to see if it exists and if it truly corroborates what the original poster shared.
Use Reliable Fact-Checking Websites - Is the claim backed up by trusted news sites like the BBC, the New York Times, The Guardian, Snopes, PolitiFact or others? You can also use Originality.AI’s fact checker to determine, based on AI and machine learning patterns, if a specific claim seems too good to be true.
Twitter’s Transition to X
Of course, one cannot mention how to fact check Twitter without mentioning its transition to X after having been purchased by Elon Musk. Musk has made several changes to the platform since taking over in October of 2022. Most notably has been the formation of Community Notes, a crowdsourced program that allows users to suggest short notes that add missing context to a tweet. This feature has been refined so that it’s harder to “game the system”, however, some people claim that Community Notes makes the spread of disinformation worse.
Beyond this feature, the company itself has cut many of its content moderation resources, including dismissing a large part of the moderation and election integrity team. Legacy blue check marks are no longer a way to determine whether or not a source is verified or even high quality, as anyone with $8 per month to spend can now have their own blue checkmark. In addition, X does not verify the identity of anyone.
The Future of Fact Checking on Twitter/X
Currently, the transition from Twitter to X and the fact checking (or lack thereof) is very much a mixed bag. Although Community Notes and Verified Users are some ways to make headway toward a more accurate and honest platform, the fact that anyone can become a verified user, as well as the insider distrust in Community Notes makes fact checking Twitter a challenge. As to whether or not Twitter/X will continue to be a reliable source of breaking information and updates, it’s anyone’s guess at this point and the future of the platform remains to be seen.