October 18, 2023
Community Notes (formerly named “Birdwatch”) is Twitter’s crowdsourced fact-checking program to combat mis- and dis-information. By signing up to be a Birdwatch contributor, a user can add contextual notes and commentary to other tweets as well as rate the contributions of others. User submissions to the Community Notes program also serve as metacommentary on the platform more generally. Beyond their fact-checking role, Birdwatch notes also illuminate how some users perceived Elon Musk’s recent purchase of the platform and how the subsequent changes aligned with their own understandings of what the platform ought to be.
I created Birdwatch Archive (https://birdwatcharchive.org) to archive Twitter’s Community Notes program, which has been an under-acknowledged component of the platform’s history. The website processes the data that Twitter publicly releases from the Birdwatch program and displays it in a searchable and organized fashion that is accessible and useful to researchers. As Muira McCammon and Jessa Lingel (2022) explain, studying dying platforms is a way “for designers and practitioners to think about the lifecycles of the devices and services they create, and for users seeking to understand the relationships between people, platforms and data” (2). I argue that studying a dying platform relies upon the creation of what Abigail De Kosnik (2016) describes as “rogue archives,” collections which exist beyond traditional memory institutions. This includes turning to less publicized materials from social media platforms, and to preserve and make these available to other researchers.
Even as Twitter continues to devolve and collapse, we can try to learn from how users described and understood the platform. When studying major platforms, we cannot rely solely upon the data made accessible by the platform itself. Instead, we must look for opportunities to create “rogue archives” of online settings, which includes turning sources that are not as frequently viewed by most users. I use notes from the Birdwatch Archive to analyze how some Twitter users experienced the weeks and months surrounding Musk’s purchase of the platform. How did some users understand the platform and its online space? How did some users understand their own role in shaping the platform? What can we take from that to our analyses of other online spaces?
I presented my work on Birdwatch Archive at the 2023 Association of Internet Researchers conference in Philadelphia. You can read an abstract of my presentation as well as view the presentation slides here: