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Elon Musk Is Personally Undermining X’s Efforts to Curb Israel-Hamas War Disinformation

Oct 10, 2023 11:19 AM

Elon Musk Is Shitposting His Way Through the Israel-Hamas War

X’s Trust and Safety team says it’s working to remove false information related to the Israel-Hamas war. Meanwhile, Elon Musk is sharing conspiracies and chatting with QAnon promoters.

Elon Musk

Photograph: Jordan Vonderhaar/Getty Images

yesterday night, what’sleft of the Trust and Safety team at X (formerly Twitter) announced the measures it was taking to try and curb the virulent spread of disinformation around the Israel-Hamas war on its platform.

The statement, issued three days after the conflict began, reads: “As the events continue to unfold rapidly, a cross-company leadership group has assessed this moment as a crisis requiring the highest level of response.”

One person who does not appear to be part of this crisis team is X owner Elon Musk.

Instead of tackling the dangerous disinformation problem on his platform, Musk instead spent yeterday night into this morning continuing to spread disinformation about the conflict, conversing with a known QAnon promoter, boosting anti-Muslim conspiracy theories, and laughing at a video detailing how transphobic content on X can get you new followers.

Musk also promoted a new feature that allows X Premium subscribers to see only replies from other people willing to pay $8 a month, which Musk said would “help a lot with spam bots” on the platform—an issue Musk previously claimed he had already all but eradicated.

“​​If successful, X will evolve to be the collective consciousness of humanity or, more accurately, the human-machine collective,” Musk posted in reply to a follower who said he was doing a great job running the company.

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Meanwhile, disinformation about the conflict in the Middle East continues to rage on the platform, driven primarily by verified accounts.

Yesterday evening, X’s Trust and Safety team, which is currently leaderless after Ella Irwin resigned in June, wrote on X that it had “removed newly created Hamas-affiliated accounts” and was working with the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT), an industry body that helps coordinate content moderation across social media platforms, to “try and prevent terrorist content from being distributed online.”

The Safety team’s statement also lauded the user-generated Community Notes system and said new accounts were being enrolled to address the flood of disinformation on the platform. The Safety team also revealed that it had removed “several hundreds accounts for attempting to manipulate trending topics.”

Since Musk took control of the platform just under a year ago, he has restructured it to encourage engagement over everything else. As a result, accounts that subscribe to X Premium now have a monetary incentive to post content that is engaging regardless of how truthful it is. This was highlighted clearly on yesterday night when, at the same time as the Safety team posted its update, a new viral piece of disinformation was spreading unchecked on X.

Sulaiman Ahmed, a self-described investigative journalist, posted the false claim that the Church of Saint Porphyrius in Gaza City, one of the oldest churches in the world, was destroyed by an Israeli bomb. The post received over 1 million views in the span of three hours.

Ahmed is a subscriber to X Premium, which means his posts are given priority in search results and newsfeeds over other users, and he also allows followers to subscribe to his content directly through X, allowing him to profit from increased engagement with his content.

Yesterday evening, the church posted an update on Facebook dismissing the claim, adding that it was taking in refugees left homeless following Israel’s bombing campaign in retaliation to the Hamas attack that began on Saturday morning.

Despite the church’s rebuttal—and Ahmed himself subsequently admitting that the church was untouched—the disinformation spread far and wide on X. WIRED conducted a search for the “Saint Porphyrius Orthodox Church” on X this morning and found that Ahmed’s original false post was the third result. Multiple other posts from verified users all repeating the lie were also promoted at the top of the results, none of which had Community Notes attached to them.

Eliot Higgins, founder of investigative journalist outlet Bellingcat, pointed out that the false information was being shared by a wide variety of accounts, all of which had one thing in common: a subscription to X Premium.

“If Musk hadn't made it so hard to research disinformation on his website, this case would be a good way to show the growing overlap of the pro-Assad, the pro-Putin, and the US alt-right griftospheres,” Higgins wrote on X, adding: “Musk hasn't given the voiceless a voice, he's just dragged us all down into the swamp, and the only people who truly benefit are shameless grifters.”

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David Gilbert is a reporter at WIRED who is covering disinformation and online extremism, and how these two online trends will impact people's lives across the globe, with a special focus on the 2024 US presidential election. Prior to WIRED, he worked at VICE News. He lives in Ireland.
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