You can fight misinformation on Twitter without using your username

Birdwatch contributors will be able to obtain a special pseudonym to protect their identity. — AFP Relaxnews

Using your own username to fight fake news can deter some users. That’s why the social network will now assign aliases to its army of “birdwatchers” via its Birdwatch tool.

The new feature is intended to offer Twitter users greater peace of mind. “We want everyone to feel comfortable contributing to Birdwatch, and aliases let you write and rate notes without sharing your Twitter username,” explained the social network via the official Birdwatch account.

Launched in January 2021, the Birdwatch tool allows users to report tweets containing misinformation or fake news by adding context. For the moment the program is only available in the United States.

Fighting against preconceptions

Since Nov 22, Twitter has been automatically providing alternate handles or “aliases” to Birdwatch contributors to protect their identities and help them contextualise erroneous tweets without fear of reprisal.

According to The Verge, the social network reported that users “overwhelmingly expressed a preference for contributing under aliases. This preference was strongest for women and Black contributors.”

For Twitter, assigning dedicated aliases to Birdwatch contributors should help reduce bias towards authors and allow them to focus more precisely on the content. In addition to combating bias, aliases give contributors more freedom to correct tweets coming from their circle of friends or political community without fear of criticism: “Recent reports indicate aliases may reduce polarisation by helping people feel comfortable crossing partisan lines, or criticising their own side without the prospect of peer pressure or retribution,” Twitter outlined.

Independent profiles

The users concerned will be able to choose between five proposals: “Cheerful Grass Cockatoo”, “Terrific Cavern Canary”, “Chipper Stone Duck”, “Scholarly Tangerine Jay” and “Easygoing Orchid Owl”. The aliases assigned will not be linked to users’ accounts on their Twitter profiles, the social network said.

While contributors will be able to take advantage of a new alias for their activity via Birdwatch, this anonymity will not allow them to publish whatever they want. They will get independent profiles on which all their different contributions will be listed to maintain accountability.

While the new alias attribution programme for Birdwatch contributors launched on Nov 22, Twitter has nevertheless specified that previous contributions will also be updated with the new aliases: “For those of you who were in the pilot and contributed under your Twitter username before that, your previous contributions will all now appear to come from your alias, not your Twitter username. Your Birdwatch profile page will show all the notes you’ve written, all attributed to your new alias.”

However, the social network warns that Internet users may remember the names of users who have already contributed: “If someone who previously read one of your notes happened to recall the username that wrote it, they could possibly infer your alias. The only way to completely prevent this is by deleting all of your prior contributions and starting fresh.” – AFP Relaxnews

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