Who Would Volunteer to Fact-Check Twitter?
I learned about the pilot test of Twitter’s new crowdsourced misinformation-labeling program the same way I learn about most news events that are relevant to my life: A bunch of Harry Styles fans were talking about it on my timeline.
Or rather, they were reacting to it, in quote-tweets, one after another , all saying essentially the same thing : “larries better hide,” “larries are over,” “it’s over for larries,” and, more explicitly, “i’m gonna use this against larries.” Maybe you don’t feel as though you need to know what any of this means before you read my take on whether Twitter’s Birdwatch program is a good idea, but I think it will help. Almost everything I know about life on the internet can be explained through “ Larries ,” a community of (mostly) former One Direction fans who believe that two of the boy band’s members, Louis Tomlinson and Harry Styles, are in love and secretly married, and that they have been for years, and that Tomlinson’s toddler son is either a child actor or the offspring of an ex-girlfriend’s stepdad. Larries thrived on Tumblr for years and are now experiencing an inexplicable resurgence on Twitter and TikTok, though everywhere they go, they find themselves locked in battle with a group of “Antis,” who are what they sound like. The Antis hate the Larries, often ridiculing them as delusional, which is sort of rude, and bringing up their history of viciously harassing Tomlinson’s family and friends, which is pretty fair.
Naturally, the Antis on Twitter took notice when the company announced , at the end of January, that it would launch an experiment in letting users decide which posts are true and which are false. This is not a fact-checking program, exactly, because it will not involve trained fact-checkers. Instead, participants in the Birdwatch pilot can identify tweets they find to be “ misleading ,” then submit notes explaining their stance—ideally these should link to reliable outside sources, and provide helpful context—as well as a judgment of how much harm the misinformation is likely to cause. In their reports, of course, the Antis say the Larries are causing “considerable harm.”
[ Read: How a fake baby is born ]
I’m telling this story because I think it’s funny, but also because it illustrates a core problem with Birdwatch at this stage: There is no good reason for most people to volunteer to fact-check Twitter. “Stans” are perhaps the category of Twitter user most willing to try it out, in a limited way, because they have a highly personal stake in the spread of an extremely specific form of, yes, misinformation. They have a “fave” to protect. They’re the most fun (though still volatile ) result of Twitter’s competitive, gamified environment, and they clearly see something in this new tool that might benefit them. A few of them have already been more than willing to give of their time. But is anyone else going to feel the same way?