Twitter Will Turn Off Some Features to Fight Election Misinformation

OAKLAND, Calif. — Twitter, risking the ire of its best-known user, President Trump, said on Friday that it would turn off several of its routine features in an attempt to control the spread of misinformation in the final weeks before the presidential election.

The first notable change, Twitter said, will essentially give users a timeout before they can hit the button to retweet a post from another account. A prompt will nudge them to add their own comment or context before sharing the original post.

Twitter will also disable the system that suggests posts on the basis of someone’s interests and the activity of accounts they follow. In their timelines, users will see only content from accounts they follow and ads.

And if users try to share content that Twitter has flagged as false, a notice will warn them that they are about to share inaccurate information.

Most of changes will happen on Oct. 20 and will be temporary, Twitter said. Labels warning users against sharing false information will begin to appear next week. The company plans to wait until the result of the presidential election is clear before turning the features back on.

“Twitter has a critical role to play in protecting the integrity of the election conversation, and we encourage candidates, campaigns, news outlets and voters to use Twitter respectfully and to recognize our collective responsibility to the electorate to guarantee a safe, fair and legitimate democratic process this November,” the Twitter executives Vijaya Gadde and Kayvon Beykpour said in a statement.

They said the “extra friction” on retweets was designed to “encourage everyone to not only consider why they are amplifying a tweet, but also increase the likelihood that people add their own thoughts, reactions and perspectives to the conversation.”

If users decide they don’t have anything to add, they will be able to retweet after the prompt.

The change is likely to have a direct impact on Mr. Trump’s online activity. Since returning to the White House on Monday after a hospital stay to treat the coronavirus, he has been on a Twitter tear. On Tuesday evening, for example, he tweeted or retweeted posts from other accounts about 40 times.

Twitter stopped short of shutting down its Trending Topics feature, a change that many critics say would do the most to fight misinformation because people can game the feature to promote false or misleading information. Instead, Twitter will expand its effort to fact-check and provide context to items that trend in the United States.

Social media companies have moved in recent months to fight the spread of misinformation around the presidential election. Facebook and Google have committed to banning political ads for an undetermined period after polls close on Nov. 3. Facebook also said a banner at the top of its news feed would caution users that no winner had been declared until news outlets called the presidential race.

The companies are trying to avoid a repeat of the 2016 election, when Russian operatives used them to spread falsehoods and hyperpartisan content in an attempt to destabilize the American electorate.

Over the last year, Twitter has slowly been stripping away parts of its service that have been used to spread false and misleading information. Jack Dorsey, the chief executive, announced last year that the company would no longer allow political advertising. Twitter has more aggressively fact-checked misinformation on the service — including misleading tweets from Mr. Trump.

That has led to a backlash from the Trump administration. Mr. Trump, who has 87 million followers on Twitter, has called for a repeal of legal protections Twitter and other social media companies rely on.

But Twitter’s fact-checking has continued. It recently began adding context to its trending topics, giving viewers more information about why a topic has become a subject of widespread conversation on Twitter. This month, Twitter plans to add context to all trending topics presented on the For You page for users in the United States.

“This will help people more quickly gain an informed understanding of the high-volume public conversation in the U.S. and also help reduce the potential for misleading information to spread,” Ms. Gadde and Mr. Beykpour said.

Twitter’s trends illustrate which topics are most popular on the service by highlighting content that is widely discussed. The trends often serve as an on-ramp for new users who are discovering how to find information on Twitter, but internet trolls and bots have often exploited the system to spread false, hateful or misleading information.

As recently as July, trending topics have been hijacked by white nationalists who pushed the anti-Semitic hashtag #JewishPrivilege and by QAnon, a conspiracy group that made the furniture company Wayfair trend on Twitter with false claims that the company engaged in child trafficking. The embarrassing episodes led critics to call on Twitter to shut down trends altogether.


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