May 28, 2020

It’s been more than 24 hours since Twitter flagged tweets by U.S. President Donald Trump, suggesting its users should seek more information about his allegations on mail-in ballots. As far as we know, this is how the company will handle misleading content. What’s interesting, however, is that no other misinformer — on the entire planet — has been detected by the platform. This is just one of the issues Twitter should review soon.

First of all, let’s be clear: From a fact-checker’s point of view, Trump’s tweet has not been fact-checked. The label that Twitter applied to the president’s post did not issue a verdict on  Trump’s veracity. There is no “false” or “true” tag.

Second, when readers click on the link to “get the facts about mail-in ballots,” they do not find a detailed article with hyperlinks — the usual fact-checking product. They find a “Moment” (a collection of tweets previously posted by media outlets). If readers have time, they can read all of them and get context about mail-in ballots, and then conclude whether Trump’s tweet was actually false.

Twitter’s decision to flag falsehoods seems to be on the right path, but lacks transparency. That makes it difficult to appreciate or defend.

In the battle against falsehoods, having a clear and public methodology is vital. Readers shouldn’t be left with doubts about who can be flagged with this new label, who is responsible for creating those “Moments” and how those tweets are chosen.

Twitter should also be fully transparent about this feature’s evolution. Is it intended for only the United States or will the company use it worldwide?

  

If the system is an international tool, then a careful study on using personal tweets in those “Moments” must start now.  In certain countries, exposing an individual who debunks politicians, for example, could invite digital threats.

Since 2016, the International Fact-Checking Network has relied on its Code of Principles.   The fact-checking community understands that commitments such as transparency and nonpartisanship are crucial to credibility.

It makes no sense that Twitter has applied its new feature to just one person — a politician who seeks reelection.

It is clear that Trump’s tweet about mail-in ballots is misleading, but it is also true that in 24 hours, equally serious falsehoods about other elections in the world have been posted and retweeted — and none of them got flagged. Why?

Twitter’s limited actions increase the political polarization in the United States by allowing Republicans to claim that the new feature is a partisan tool. That opens the door for Trump to suggest social media must be regulated, an echo from leaders in Asian countries. And finally, it jeopardizes the community of fact-checkers who — without having participated in this decision — are now subtly treated as a political rival.

Fact-checking has existed in the United States since the 1990s. When an American company ignores all the lessons learned by American fact-checkers, it seems, at least, like a wasted opportunity.

At 10 pm, Twitter tweeted that the new label is a way to enforce their civic integrity policy. The company said that Trump’s posts “could confuse voters about what they need to do to receive a ballot and participate in the election process”.

Read this article in Spanish at Univision.

*Cristina Tardáguila is the associate director of the International Fact-Checking Network and the founder of Agência Lupa. She can be reached at ctardaguila@poynter.org.

Correction: A previous version of this article said that Twitter hadn’t labeled any COVID-19 falsehoods when, in fact, they had. There are two examples (one, two).

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Cristina Tardáguila is the International Fact-Checking Network’s Associate Director. She was born in May 1980, in Brazil, and has lived in Rio de Janeiro for…
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