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Updated Oct 10, 2023, 4:10pm EDT
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Semafor Signals

Misinformation about Israel-Hamas war spreads on Elon Musk’s X

Elon Musk, Chief Executive Officer of SpaceX and Tesla and owner of Twitter, gestures as he attends the Viva Technology conference dedicated to innovation and startups at the Porte de Versailles exhibition centre in Paris, France, June 16, 2023. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes/File Photo
REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes/File Photo
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Fake media posts linked to the Israel-Hamas conflict are proliferating on the social media platform X — formerly known as Twitter.

Twitter was previously used as a go-to source for breaking news and analysis on world events, but changes to the platform’s algorithm, the removal of unpaid verified checkmarks, and the boosting of paid profiles have made it difficult to sort through fake accounts and misinformation.

Posts passing off video game-play as footage of the conflict, years-old videos from the ongoing conflict in Syria, and an old image of soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo holding a Palestinian flag all spread across the site in recent days, prompting some journalists to compile lists tracking the extensive misinformation.

A top EU official warned Musk on Tuesday that the platform was spreading “illegal content and disinformation,” urging him in a letter to comply with EU law that requires strict content moderation measures.

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Elon Musk’s X recently stripped the site of a crucial internal tool used to identify misinformation, The Information reported, and the site has implemented a profit-sharing system which incentivizes viral content sharing. The result is a platform that benefits propagandists, Emerson Brooking, a researcher at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, told Wired. “Anyone can buy one of those little blue checks and change their profile picture to something that’s seemingly a media outlet. It takes quite a bit of work to vet who’s telling the truth and who’s not.”

The Israel-Hamas conflict was the first real test of how the restructured site might handle information-sharing in real-time. And, “it failed spectacularly,” conspiracy theory researcher Mike Rothschild told Bloomberg. “It’s now almost impossible to tell what’s a fact, what’s a rumor, what’s a conspiracy theory, and what’s trolling,” he told the outlet. In a since-deleted post, Musk promoted two accounts known for spreading misinformation on his platform. A post from the safety team Monday said the company had taken action against thousands of accounts sharing graphic content, and removed accounts manipulating trending topics.

X’s deterioration as a source for real-time news might present an opportunity for Threads, Meta’s recently-launched microblogging platform. The site is smaller than X, but users have not faced nearly as much misinformation on the Israel-Hamas conflict, tech journalist Casey Newton noted in his newsletter Platformer. “If Threads didn’t capture every nuance of the discussion, it at least seemed to reflect the basic shape of the conversation. And for a nascent interest-based network, there are few better signs of long-term potential,” Newton wrote.

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