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The conversation: Twitter and fake news

Person using Twitter

What’s the story here?

The social media app Twitter is attempting to reduce the spread of misinformation on its platform by stopping people from sharing articles they have not read.

Ha! That’s about as likely to happen as my cat learning to play the piano. How does it intend to do that then?

Well, the company is currently conducting a test with some users of its Android app. If the user attempts to retweet an article that they haven’t opened, it’ll show a prompt asking them if they really want to retweet a link that they have not tapped on.  

Right. And why does Twitter think this is important?

Misinformation and fake news are a huge problem on all social media platforms. During the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, Downing Street’s anti-fake news unit was dealing with up to 10 cases of coronavirus misinformation a day. And some of those articles were getting more views than all of those posted by the NHS combined.

Hmmm. I’m pretty sure I can spot the difference between a genuine post and a fake one.

Really? It’s not always easy – particularly if you don’t actually read the article that’s being shared. A 2016 study from computer scientists at Columbia University and Microsoft found that 59 per cent of links posted on Twitter are never clicked. And it’s even harder for children to know what they can trust: a government report in 2018 found that only 2 per cent of young people have the skills they need to sort out fact from fiction.

Alright, I’m convinced. So why doesn’t Twitter just ban fake news?

That’s easier said than done – and besides, it wants to avoid being accused of censorship.

And has it done anything else on this front?

In May, the company began experimenting with asking users to “revise” their replies if they were about to send tweets with “harmful language” to other people. That hasn’t been entirely successful, though, with the filter picking up as much harmless conversation between friends as it does genuinely hateful speech.

So what happens next?

The test has only just started, but presumably if it’s successful Twitter will roll out the feature to all.

And what’s the reaction been like?

Predictably mixed – with comments below Twitter’s announcement ranging from “Who made you god and how do you know what i am doing in my other Browser tabs?” to “Are you gonna do the same for @realDonaldTrump tweets?” and “This is epic”.

Anything else I should know?

You can find out more about fake news – and how to help children and young people recognise it – via the links below:

Image: itchaznong/stock.adobe.com