I’m not convinced that Community Notes is capable of fulfilling the role that X is trying to wedge it into. But X seems certain that crowd-sourced fact-checking is better than any other form of establishment-biased process, and as such, it’s continuing to push notes as a solution to all of its mis- and disinformation woes, despite external analysis repeatedly indicating that it is not, in fact, up to the task.
Yesterday, X rolled out yet another update for Community Notes as the platform works to handle an influx of posts about the Israel-Hamas war. Now, notes contributors will be required to include a source reference to support their proposed contextual addition.
As you can see in this example, Community Notes creators will now be prompted to add a source, in order to have their proposed note approved through the review system. Notes are then put up for consideration by other Community Notes participants, and if a note gains the required approval consensus, it’ll then go on to be displayed on the post.
Though there are some exceptions.
As explained by X:
“We haven’t previously required [source references], as some helpful notes inherently do not need sources – for example, they refer to details of the post or media it contains. But those instances are less common, and we believe the overall impact of this change will be positive. Sources will not be required for notes explaining why added context isn’t needed.”
So some self-explanatory notes won’t need a source, but for most, contributors will now need to include a reference link to further contextualize their correction or addition.
Though, interestingly, what you can even use as a source is a topic of debate within itself.
According to X own Elon Musk, contributors should not use “some bs press article” as a reference for their amendment, because “many legacy media organizations have no business model or meaningful circulation anymore – they just exist as propaganda tools for their owners”.
So you’re technically not supposed to use any media publication that Elon doesn’t like, which is an ever-growing list.
What then happens if you do reference one of these publishers is not clear, but I suspect that Elon’s crew of Notes contributors will take a dim view of such, which may mean that your Note never gets the required ‘Helpful’ marker, which would then make it active in the app.
Which is a key problem with the Community Notes system, along with a general lack of transparency as to how the full process approval actually works.
According to a study conducted by Poynter Institute, less than 8.5% of all the Community Notes that are created are ever made viewable in the app, due to lack of agreement among contributors as to whether it’s a valid amendment, while another report from Wired suggests that various groups are already manipulating the Notes system in order to vote down certain perspectives.
As per Wired:
“A group of around 25 Community Notes contributors actively coordinate on a daily basis in order to upvote or downvote particular notes […] A [Community Notes] contributor based in the southern hemisphere told us that he has two accounts on X, and he alleges that both of them have been approved for access to the Community Notes system – evidence that the program may be vulnerable to even broader manipulation.”
Others have also noted the conflict between crowd-sourced fact-checking and X’s new creator ad revenue share program, which incentivizes users to post divisive content in order to spark more conversation and engagement.
Because of this, many people are indeed posting misinformation that’s intended to be provocative, which is overloading the volunteer-based Community Notes system, meaning that many of these posts remain active in the app.
The outside consensus is that Community Notes, while a handy addition, and an interesting experiment, is not equipped to replace in-house moderators at scale. Yet, that’s clearly X’s intention, with the view being that if users are the ones that are assessing the validity of posts and opinions, then X itself will no longer have to step in and make moderation calls, which Elon views as tantamount to censorship.
Which makes some sense. There probably shouldn’t be a group of managers at Facebook or X getting together to decide on what is and isn’t allowed to be discussed in such large and influential apps.
No doubt all social platforms would agree, as they could do without the headaches that moderation inherently brings. But there are always going to be topics that spark fierce debate, and as such, achieving consensus within the Notes system is not going to stop the flow of such, especially as government-funded, coordinated groups look to sway opinion through the same.
So who should be making the call then?
Well, that’s what social platforms have been grappling with for years, with official fact-checking partners considered to be the best arbiters by most.
But the COVID pandemic changed many people’s opinions on this, because in the midst of a worsening crisis, some disagreed with the measures being taken to curb the spread of the virus, which has since made more people increasingly skeptical of all “expert” decisions.
Of course, all of those “expert” COVID rulings were made with the best intentions, by experts who were working with the information that they had available at the time. But conspiracy theorists have now taken this as fuel for their anti-government agendas, which has extended to the media, academia, government, basically anything that they see as trying to “control” whatever narrative.
Which, inevitably, renders a system like Community Notes less effective, because contributors can’t even reach agreement on what is actual truth, which means that even well-sourced, well-referenced amendments are not ever going to get the required consensus to be shown.
But again, Elon and his team are convinced that this is the way, and it looks like they’re going to stick with it, even in the face of investigations, fines, and other penalties that may result.
Maybe that changes over time, as more concerns continue to arise, or maybe there is a way to keep refining the process till it does produce more effective results.