Flashback: How Twitter Began Labeling ‘Misinformation’

CANNES, FRANCE - JUNE 21: Co-chair / founder of Twitter Jack Dorsey attends the ' #SheInspiresMe: Twitter celebrates female voices & visionaries ' Event at Cannes Lions on June 21, 2017 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Francois Durand/Getty Images for Twitter)
Francois Durand/Getty Images for Twitter; Edit: BNN

Twitter recently added a “fact check” to President Trump’s tweets relating to his concerns about mail-in voting fraud. Here is how Twitter made the decision to suddenly start fact-checking public figures on its platform.

Breitbart News recently reported on Twitter’s attempts to “fact check” President Trump, this time focusing on the President’s tweets discussing concerns surrounding mail-in voting fraud. Twitter chose to add its own personal “fact-check” to the President’s tweet, diverging from how many other social media sites apply fact-checking labels.

Social media sites such as Facebook work with third-party fact-checkers such as Factcheck.org, Snopes, the Associated Press, and other organizations over 33 countries. This provides Facebook with a level of plausible deniability in fact-checking certain posts and information, pointing to their fact-checkers to avoid any criticism of censorship or bias.

Breitbart News reported in April of this year that Facebook’s third-party fact-checkers were failing to accurately fact-check false claims about President Trump. Breitbart News reporter Allum Bokhari wrote:

story from Verizon-owned HuffPost claims that the president has a stake in a drug company that produces hydroxycholoroquine, the drug being promoted by himself and many in the administration as a potential treatment for the Chinese virus. The article is currently on Facebook without any labels alerting users that the information is false or even just misleading.

This is despite the fact that Snopes, a left-leaning fact-checker that until February 2019 was one of Facebook’s fact-checking partners, has rated the claim that Trump benefits financially from promoting hydroxychloroquine as “mostly false.”

However, Facebook has largely avoided criticism for this “oversight” as the responsibility to fact-check claims is placed on its third-party fact-checkers. In comparison, however, Twitter has not chosen to elect a number of organizations but rather mark tweets that have been reported as misleading with a large orange badge and reduce their visibility on users’ timelines. In the case of President Trump’s tweet, the site linked to a “Twitter Moment” in an attempt to debunk his claims.

Breitbart News described what Twitter users see when viewing President Trump’s tweet, stating:

People trying to view Trump’s tweets on Twitter will see a link added by the site beneath them saying “get the facts about mail-in ballots.” Clicking on the link takes Twitter users to a Twitter “moment” (a collection of tweets and links) curated by the company itself and filled with mainstream media articles from CNN, Washington Post, and other outlets calling President Trump a liar. This is reportedly the first time the social media platform has branded Trump’s tweets with a link to a fact check of this type.

The top article is a piece from CNN Opinion, calling the President’s claim “unsubstantiated” and claiming that mail-in ballots “very rarely lead to voter fraud.”

Twitter has previously faced enormous pressure to ban President Trump entirely from its platform but has refused to do so due to the President’s status as a public figure. In June of 2019, Twitter announced that it would be implementing a labeling feature for rule-breaking tweets from verified political candidates and government officials with more than 10,000 followers.

“In the past, we’ve allowed certain Tweets that violated our rules to remain on Twitter because they were in the public’s interest, but it wasn’t clear when and how we made those determinations,” the company said in a blog post at the time. “To fix that, we’re introducing a new notice that will provide additional clarity in these situations, and sharing more on when and why we’ll use it.”

In February, Breitbart News reported on the labeling method by Twitter. A Twitter spokesperson told NBC News at the time: “We’re exploring a number of ways to address misinformation and provide more context for tweets on Twitter. Misinformation is a critical issue and we will be testing many different ways to address it.”

The demo shows tweets from politicians with large orange banners below reading “Harmfully Misleading.” Examples of how this system would work including badges attached to tweets from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and a tweet from author Anand Ranganathan.

Around the time of the reveal of the labeling system, Twitter announced in a blog post relating to media on its platform that it would be banning any “synthetic or manipulated” media that is “likely to cause harm.” In March of this year, Twitter labeled a video shared by President Trump with its “manipulated media” tag.

The video retweeted by the president was originally posted by the White House director of social media Dan Scavino. The video used footage taken during a speech by Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden in which the former vice president fumbled his words and stated  “Excuse me. We can only re-elect Donald Trump,” before pausing and adding “if in fact we get engaged in this circular firing squad here. It’s gotta be a positive campaign.”

The video shared by Scavino only includes Biden stating: “Excuse me. We can only re-elect Donald Trump.” Twitter’s manipulated media label began to appear on the video of Biden to some users on Sunday evening. Twitter says that it examines video metadata, the context of the tweets, and the Twitter user’s public information to determine how it labels videos as “misleading.” The platform has not stated how decided to apply the label to the clip, which does not change Biden’s words although it does remove them from context, as “significantly and deceptively altered or fabricated.”

It would appear that Twitter is slowly ramping up it’s “fact-checking” and monitoring of the President’s tweets, the decision to fact-check President Trump’s most recent tweet comes shortly after the site apologized for hosting a series of Tweets made by Trump about MSNBC host Joe Scarborough and the intern who died while working for the former congressman. Breitbart News will continue to monitor Twitter’s fact-checking of President Trump and the treatment of conservatives on its platform.

Lucas Nolan is a reporter for Breitbart News covering issues of free speech and online censorship. Follow him on Twitter @LucasNolan or contact via secure email at the address lucasnolan@protonmail.com


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