Fact Checking

Twitter's Impact: Exploring the Role of Fact Checks

Uncover Twitter's dual nature in social media. Examine its impact, rapid misinformation spread, and ongoing efforts to enhance accuracy and credibility.

Twitter's Impact: Exploring the Role of Fact Checks

Twitter (now known as X) is a double-edged sword in the world of social media platforms. Its ease of use combined with the immediacy with which a viral tweet can spread make it a highly lucrative way to spread misleading content 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?

In this article, we're going to explore the role of Twitter fact checks. We're going to look at how the social media company contributes to the spread of misinformation, what they're doing about it, and what you can do to fact check Twitter yourself.

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 with verified Twitter accounts have (often without realizing it) shared unverified claims and information, which widen its reach considerably.

For example, in 2023, a bunch of verified Twitter accounts shared a fake photo of an explosion by the Pentagon. To make things worse, one of these accounts falsely appeared to be associated with Bloomberg News, one of the most respected business and financial news organizations in the world. This not only caused mass confusion and concern, but also a dip in the stock market.

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.

Back in 2020, Twitter introduced warnings and labels for tweets that contained disputed or misleading information. These labels would often add context to tweets by redirecting users to a curated page or a more trusted source.

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 social 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. So, whether you're an active member of the Twitter community or just check out the odd Tweet, 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. You can use something like 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 and Tools

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 rebranding of Birdwatch, a feature first introduced under former CEO Jack Dorsey to help combat misinformation on Twitter.

The Introduction of Community Notes

Now Community Notes, this crowdsourced program allows contributors to suggest short fact-checking notes that add missing context to a tweet. Then, if enough users from diverse perspectives consider these notes helpful, they will appear on posts. They key term here is "diverse perspectives" - in order for a note to appear on a post, people who have disagreed on ratings in the past need to agree that the note is helpful. This is supposed to help cater to a more general audience, and avoid the issue of one-sided ratings. 

Though it was originally limited to text tweets, they've since added images to the program, likely in response to the fake Pentagon explosion incident. Referring to the feature as Notes on Media, a post on the Community Notes X account claims that "notes attached to an image will automatically appear on recent & future matching images".

While Twitter's Community Notes program is good in theory, its not without its critics. Since it's crowdsourced, there is concern that users will take advantage of the feature and add in fact checking notes strictly to sway public opinion on issues, whether for personal or political reasons. While X claims that Community Notes doesn't work by majority rules, it is possible that some misinformation could slip through the cracks through this kind of program.

Then, there are others that say this feature isn't enough to combat the spread of false or misleading content in the first place. For example, in October 2023, X was bombarded with misinformation about the Hamas attacks on Israel.

Beyond Community Notes, 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 its fact-checking efforts (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 make effective Twitter fact checks 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.

Sherice Jacob

Plagiarism Expert Sherice Jacob brings over 20 years of experience to digital marketing as a copywriter and content creator. With a finger on the pulse of AI and its developments, she works extensively with Originality.ai to help businesses and publishers get the best returns from their Content.

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