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Sunday, July 16, 2023
MRC Flip-Flops On Twitter's Community Notes Under Musk
Topic: Media Research Center

The Media Research Center has generally approved of Twitter's "Community Notes" feature , which allowed people to append fact-hecks to tweets -- especially when non-conservativfes get fact-checked. In April, for example, Curtis Houck went on Fox News to praise how Community Notes were among tools right-wingers used to "push[] back on the insane notion 'that George Soros has nothing to do with the Alvin Bragg campaign.'" Houck gushed in a May 2 post:

Bob Hoge with our friends at RedState had a hilarious piece Tuesday pulling together the latest saga and kid-in-a-grocery-store meltdown MSNBC host Mehdi Hasan pitched last week after he was roundly condemned and fact-checked for one insane claim after another about crime and, of course, racism.

At the heart of it, Hoge noted that Hasan has objected Twitter’s Community Notes feature, which allows users to fact-check false claims, seeing more play under Elon Musk’s ownership and he was “getting awfully sick of” it.

Two days later, Houck cheered that "Twitter’s Community Notes sprang into action on AOC’s colleague Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) as she tweeted video of [Jordan] Neely dressed like Jackson on a subway. Joseph Vazquez hyped Community Notes further in a May 18 post:

NBC News used deceptive imagery in an apparent attempt to gloss over an outrageous sexually explicit book being pushed on children. Twitter’s Community Notes participants were having none of it.

NBC News tweeted out its story of how “[a]n Illinois teacher offered her middle schoolers a bestselling LGBTQ-themed book. Parents filed a police report over her book choice.” But the featured photo for the article included the teacher in question holding up a book titled: “Igniting Social Action in the ELA Classroom: Inquiry as Disruption.”

Except, that wasn’t the book parents reportedly complained about, as Community Notes exposed.

But when that exact same tool is used by liberals to counter right-wing falsehoods and misinformation, it suddenly became a terrible thing. David Marcus complained in a June 2 post:

Musk’s most significant change to content moderation policies at Twitter has been “Community Notes,” a crowdsourced alternative to professional fact-checking, and while some conservatives appear to like the results better, the warning labels are still a form of censorship, albeit by a different name.

To the extent we can understand the Byzantine practices at Twitter, it goes something like this: Users see a tweet they disagree with, they create a note either fact-checking, or worse adding context to the tweet. These notes are voted on by other users, and eventually, Twitter somehow decides what warnings appear below the offending tweets.

While this is more democratic than traditional fact checks, it still falls into many of the same epistemological traps that all efforts to censor do eventually. Let’s start with a fundamental problem: crowdsourcing is no guarantee of truth.


But the problems run much deeper. The most insidious tool in the fact-checker’s quiver is the phrase “Missing Important Context,” which is employed when a statement is true but the people in authority deem it misleading because it doesn’t include counter arguments that they prefer.

Let’s be completely clear, deciding what “missing context” is “important” is a wholly subjective enterprise, and when tweets are subjectively given warning labels, that is absolutely a form of censorship. 

Further, the Community Notes do not appear to operate independent of leadership at Twitter, with however many thousands (again we just don’t know the details) of suggested notes, it is eventually Twitter itself — whether through human decision-making or an algorithm — that decides what gets the censorship treatment.


The obvious question here is why these warning labels are needed at all, given that the platform already has a very simple way for the community of users to challenge the subject matter of a tweet: more tweets.

Honestly, there is no more popular sport on Twitter than users finding ridiculous statements by high profile accounts and spending hours publicly dragging the offender on the platform. Is there some reason this is not sufficient?

In fact, this combat bad speech with more speech approach is what most conservatives called for prior to Musk taking over. Good will towards the eccentric billionaire has seemed to make many on the right give Musk’s Community Notes the benefit of the doubt. This is a mistake.

Ultimately, the problem here is that “content moderation,” of which Community Notes is a type, is inherently an Orwellian business that winds up meaning censorship. Placing official warning labels on true statements is censorship whether you use a euphemism for it or not.


For now, some conservatives are celebrating Community Notes, others cutting Musk some slack on it, but at the end of the day, censorship is censorship, whether you like the results or not.

Twitter should take its thumb off the scale of discourse by abandoning Community Notes and trust the users to police themselves organically without making some more equal than others with special privileges. That, and only that, will truly be free speech.

When a fellow right-winger faced fact-checking from Community Notes, Catherine Salgado ran to their defense in a June 14 post:

Twitter’s Community Notes slapped a “Context” warning label on an actual photograph of a miscarried unborn baby, trying unscientifically and inaccurately to claim that the depicted embryo was not seven weeks old. 

When pro-life organization Live Action tweeted out photos and an article about 7- and 8-week-old unborn babies, with the back stories of the two tiny humans (Riley and Annabelle), Twitter’s Community Notes users attempted to discredit the photos.

Live Action President and Founder Lila Rose stating in a tweet, “Twitter posts a blatantly false ‘correction’ on our tweet showing a 7-week-old embryo from fertilization, who had been miscarried. What’s going on, @elonmusk?” The Community Notes “context,” shown in Rose’s screenshot, appears to have been removed since.

“This just goes to show the problem with so-called fact-checks, and ultimately the problem with Twitter’s Community Notes,” MRC Free Speech America & MRC Business Director Michael Morris said. “As columnist David Marcus pointed out in a recent piece, ‘“Community Notes” are a crowdsourced alternative to professional fact-checking, and while some conservatives appear to like the results better, the warning labels are still a form of censorship, albeit by a different name.’ Marcus is absolutely right.”

The "context" that was added was the fact that the embryo, as Salgado conceded, was the size of a blueberry -- the size of a coffee bean in the original Community Notes language -- important context when when you're representing an image as an "unborn baby" when you provide no sense sof scale. Salgado did not explain why Rose and Live Action chose to censor this relevant information in their original post.

Posted by Terry K. at 11:08 PM EDT

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