The X team continues to expand the availability of its Community Notes feature, with users in 18 more regions now able to apply to be part of the volunteer moderation program.
With yesterday’s admission of 18 new countries, we now have Community Notes contributors in 44 countries around the world. This includes the whole ????????
Welcome new contributors in ????????Bulgaria, ????????Croatia, ????????Cyprus, ????????Czechia, ????????Denmark, ????????Estonia, ????????Finland, ????????Greece, ????????Hungary,…
— Community Notes (@CommunityNotes) July 27, 2023
As noted by X, that now means that Community Notes are available in 44 regions, significantly expanding the reach and capacity of the program.
Users can apply to be part of the Community Notes team (note: the link still goes to a ‘birdwatch’ URL), which then enables them to add contextual notes and links to false or misleading content in the app. Those notes are then reviewed by other Community Notes team members, which, if approved, then sees that additional info appended to the tweet, which can help to reduce the spread of false claims.
In addition to this, X is also adding a new ‘Top Writer’ badge in order to lend more credibility to notes from highly rated contributors.
That could ensure that Top Writer notes are more likely to gain consensus, and are therefore more likely to be displayed when needed in the app.
Community Notes has emerged as a key element of Elon Musk’s ‘freedom of speech, not reach’ ethos at the newly re-branded X app, with the platform putting increased reliance on Notes as a means to police what’s true and what’s not, as judged by the X community.
Which is not always an ideal solution, especially if you’re moving away from human moderation (note: Elon also says that X has not significantly reduced moderation staff, despite culling 80% of its workforce). But Community Notes has proven to be an effective deterrent in some cases, in reducing the spread of misinformation, with AI-generated content being one element that’s regularly and accurately noted.
But the broader flaws in the system could be significant.
According to analysis by Poynter Institute, the vast majority of the Community Notes created are never viewable in the app, due to the way in which the Community Notes review system is structured, requiring consensus from users with opposing perspectives in order to be displayed.
The process effectively requires ‘ideological consensus’, which means that users on the political left and right have to agree that that note is necessary for it to be shown.
As explained by Poynter’s Alex Mahadevan:
“Essentially, it requires a cross-ideological agreement on truth, and in an increasingly partisan environment, achieving that consensus is almost impossible.”
Twitter determines a Notes contributor’s political leaning based on past behavior in the app, which is also not always the best proxy, but based on this, the system then requires responses from both sides to approve a note.
In Poynter’s research, it found that this has been useful for highlighting low-stakes content, like clarifying funny or satirical tweets, or highlighting AI-generated images, things that everyone is generally in agreement on. But some of the most harmful misinformation, along more divisive lines (e.g. COVID vaccine impacts, election interference, gender debate), is never going to get that critical consensus. Thus, the majority of Community Notes, where they’re most needed, are never displayed.
Users saw this in effect earlier this week, when a tweet from Elon Musk regarding COVID vaccines was Community Noted, but then that note disappeared from the app a day later.
That prompted many to suggest that Musk had forced his team to remove the note, but actually, it was removed due to the Community Notes voting system, which, again, requires consensus.
Yeah, people are sometimes confused when notes flip status and stop appearing. They often ascribe some kind of malice, when in reality, it’s just that the system updates its understanding of perceived helpfulness as more people rate a note (incl when new information becomes…
— Keith Coleman ???????????? (@kcoleman) July 26, 2023
The example highlights broader concerns with the notes system as a reliable means for policing misinformation. And with the X team putting increased emphasis on this element, that could lead to more misleading tweets remaining active in the app, despite contributors trying to flag them.
So while Community Notes can be beneficial in some respects, research suggests that it’s not effective in many key areas, and that the X team should be implementing more secondary checking measures to reduce such exposure. Which Elon is unlikely to be open to, given the reduced cost of relying on volunteer contributions, and his overall approach to free speech. But with X also looking to win back advertisers, it may need an improved system to assure safe ad placement.
Right now, however, X is moving ahead with the broader expansion of Community Notes, along with additional tweaks to revise the system. And with more and more AI-generated images flooding the web, that’ll still be beneficial, but it’s unlikely to be the all-encompassing solution that X seems to be hoping for.
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