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Culture Feb 21, 2020 12:21 PM EST

Twitter is not to be trusted when it comes to misinformation

Twitter is working out ways to combat misinformation, but the truth is that Twitter is the last place to trust when it comes to the truth.

Twitter is not to be trusted when it comes to misinformation
Libby Emmons and Barrett Wilson Montreal, QC

This article was published more than 1 year ago, information might not be up to date.

Twitter is working out ways to combat misinformation on the platform, and one of the ideas, per a leaked draft to NBC, is to add warning labels beneath perceived lies and misinformation.

Posts by politicians or their campaigns would be vetted by verified fact-checkers and journalists. Presumably, these people would be entirely objective and able to parse information evenly, cleanly, and without any personal bias whatsoever.

This effort comes in the wake of a rollout of a new policy from Twitter to detect and delete deep fakes and manipulated videos. The new system would also enable something of a social credit component, where “users could earn ‘points’ and a ‘community badge’ if they ‘contribute in good faith and act like a good neighbour’ and ‘provide critical context to help people understand information they see.”

Per NBC, “The points system could prevent trolls or political ideologues from becoming moderators if they differ too often from the broader community in what they mark as false or misleading.” What that means is that one, lone, dissenting voice, that does not go along with the opinion of everyone else, could lose their status as a moderator simply because they are willing to diverge from the group opinion. Having an opinion that differs too often will be reason for invalidation.

That an entire group thinks one thing does not make it true. Truth is not discerned by the number of people who believe it. In fact, the mere fact of total consensus is reason enough to investigate.

Warning labels are present in many aspects of life. They are on both prescription and over the counter drugs, on car seats, side view mirrors, and at the edge of cliffs suggesting we not get too close. Health Canada and the US FDA require ingredients labelling on foods. Tobacco products are covered with images of diseased lungs per government regulation. Information is not something that should come with a warning label.

This is not new, but it is more insidious, given just how much information the public currently consumes. In the 1990s, Tipper Gore advocated for warnings labels to come on albums, and she succeeded. Perhaps nothing was more enticing to a kid than an album with the black and white label reading: Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics. Books by renowned authors like James Joyce were banned for their sexual content.

Tech giants are concerned over their complicity in making misleading or downright incorrect information available for public consumption. They are worried that, as a result of their proprietary algorithms, stories and posts that contain inaccuracies will appear on users’ feeds. What the tech companies want is a corrective. They want to fix it. They want to be able to slap a warning label on there, give it a splashy Pantone shade, and let the issue drop, solved.

If the standard for misinformation were to be applied equally across ideologies, the BuzzFeed’s and Vox’s Twitter feeds would be very colourful indeed. But there’s no reason to believe that will be the case, given past examples. From the dirty Trump dossier to the Covington kids hoax to Jussie Smollett, misinformation flows freely from the woke outlets. And they are always given a pass by big tech.

Andy Ngo had to delete his tweet stating facts from the Human Rights Campaign because they were inconvenient to the progressive narrative. Meghan Murphy is still banned from Twitter for speaking a simple biological truth.

Here’s a thought experiment: How would Twitter categorize this tweet from Hillary Clinton? Is there enough evidence of collusion to warrant her calling Trump Putin’s Puppet?

Twitter’s plan to know what is true based on what the largest quantity of verified moderators believe is true is thoroughly flawed. The plight of heterodox thinkers on Twitter has been well documented, with those who diverge from the common narrative banned or threatened with deletion. Twitter does not know how to discern fact from fiction, and their plan of labelling information with warning labels will stifle truth and discourse, not advance it. The truth is that Twitter is the last place to trust when it comes to the truth.

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