The most overused phrase in the world got another much-needed boost of publicity yesterday, when it was revealed that Twitter might add a "fake news" button to its platform, allowing users to flag potential fake news stories or stories they consider to contain false or harmful information.
It was not immediately clear whether President Trump would consider the unconfirmed story fake news, or whether he would consider the networks' non-coverage of this story fake news, or if Trump posted something truthful on Twitter and it was flagged "fake news," what would happen then.
The potential feature has some serious beta testing ahead.
The Washington Post cited two sources who said the button was in a prototype stage and might look like a drop-down button next to tweets. Twitter spokesperson Emily Horne said, “There are no current plans to launch any type of product along these lines" but wouldn't comment on whether it was being tested.
There is a Gordian knot encircling what such a "fake news" feature would accomplish. Twitter already has a dropdown function which allows you to report posts that are abusive or harassing. The new feature would be a separate function — it would allow you to flag posts that are potentially false, but the insiders didn't say what would happen then.
Facebook has a similar function to report false stories. If enough people flag a post, the company sends it to independent fact checkers. A similar policy on Twitter, though, could result in various factions warring to get truthful posts removed, or deploying bots, which are currently programmed to follow, like and retweet posts automatically.
The Post reported that the feature is moving slowly through development, because of concerns that the system would be gamed, and that it may never proceed to widespread testing.
Mashable notes that "Twitter product managers and engineers, like those at other tech companies, often brainstorm and create features that never get implemented. Take, for example, Twitter's exploration of expanding tweets to more than 140 characters or an edit button."
Twitter's vice president of policy Colin Crowell wrote in a blog post earlier this month that the company is "working hard to detect spammy behaviors" and that they "have redoubled our efforts" but that crowdsourcing would be fundamental to keeping public discourse honest. “We, as a company, should not be the arbiter of truth,” he wrote.
Twitter provided a platform for the birth and rise of Trump's political career, via repeated lies that President Obama was not born in the United States.