Unlike Polis, the Twitter project needs to find consensus not only on one question at a time but on any conflict that may arise on the platform. Community Notes does that by measuring the diversity of opinion among participants, based on how different users perceive the helpfulness of notes from others. Twitter’s way of bridging the divide is to find posts that are considered useful by reviewers who often disagree on content, meaning they have different opinions. This approach at the heart of Polis and Community Notes is called bridging-based classification. Megill believes that the Twitter community has adopted new skills. “Birdwatch has been very successful in expanding this kind of system to a large audience and a range of challenges,” he says.
Twitter’s vice president of marketing said at the beginning of this month that the use of Community Watch has grown recently, but the project is still in its early days. The data is an open source, and as of November 8 saw only 38,494 posts from 5,433 people-a small group to manage a platform with more than 200 million users. Nor will the bridge-based system change the social order. An independent study found that people are more likely to write tweets expressing opinions that differ from their own. David Rand, one of its authors, concluded Financial Times that “cooperation is the biggest driver of Birdwatch users.”
A recently released Twitter poll also shows a split, with more Democrats than Republicans finding the posts helpful. But many a all of them groups thought that the documents selected by the system were useful rather than useful. And Public Posts was also seen to reduce the number of users tweets covered in dangerous posts. The project may also find a notable, if unusual, success: This month both of the White House and Elon Musk deleted the widely circulated tweets after a Community Watch post reported that they did not exist.
Perhaps the biggest weakness of Community Notes is one shared by Polis. “Digital democracy platforms have no real authority,” Taiwanese parliamentarian Karen Yu told me. Polis still relies on politicians to turn the consensus that comes from citizens into law. Because social media users have limited control over the service they use, Community Notes is very weak. With a wave of his hand, Elon Musk was able to make it – and all public records – disappear.
But I don’t think they will. An old joke about Twitter told by Mark Zuckerberg says that the company’s executives were so clueless that they “drove a sports car into a gold mine and fell in.” Elon Musk may have driven his magic car into his own gold mine. They seem to have no idea Birdwatch existed before they bought the platform, but they stumbled upon one of the most exciting things to ever come out of not just Twitter, but any major platform.
For Musk, who has loaded Twitter with debt, there’s a lot to like in Community Notes. It’s risky, algorithm-driven, and doesn’t require the use of content management teams. More importantly, it shifts the responsibility for telling the truth away from Twitter itself and onto its users.