As false information about the rapidly changing war between Gaza Strip militants and Israel proliferated on the social media platform X over the weekend, owner Elon Musk personally recommended that users follow accounts notorious for promoting lies.
AS FALSE information about the rapidly changing war between Gaza Strip militants and Israel proliferated on the social media platform X over the weekend, owner Elon Musk personally recommended that users follow accounts notorious for promoting lies.
“For following the war in real-time, @WarMonitors & @sentdefender are good,” Musk posted on the platform formerly called Twitter on Sunday morning to 150 million follower accounts. That post was viewed 11 million times in three hours, drawing thanks from those two accounts, before Musk deleted it.
Both were among the most important early spreaders of a false claim in May that there had been an explosion near the White House. The Dow Jones Industrial Average stock index briefly dropped 85 points before that story was debunked.
Emerson T Brooking, a researcher at the Atlantic Council Digital Forensics Research Lab, posted that @sentdefender is an “absolutely poisonous account. regularly posting wrong and unverifiable things . . . inserting random editorialization and trying to juice its paid subscriber count.”
The War Monitor account has argued with others over Israel and religion, posting a year ago that “the overwhelming majority of people in the media and banks are zionists” and telling a correspondent in June to “go worship a jew lil bro.”
Information researchers said that the new conflict was an early test of how the revamped X conveys accurate data during a major crisis, and that the immediate impression was poor.
“Anecdotal evidence that X is failing this stress test is plentiful,” said Mike Caulfield, a research scientist at the University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public. “Go on the platform, do a search on Israel or Gaza – you don’t have to scroll very far to find dubious or debunked information.”
Musk left up his replies to the two accounts he had promoted, each of which have more than 600,000 followers, boosting their visibility. He also continued to fault “mainstream media”, telling users to trust X instead.
Other accounts on X drew engagement with photos or videos of unrelated attacks from years earlier and false claims that Iran or others had entered the conflict.
An account imitating the Jerusalem Post falsely reported that the Israeli prime minister had been taken to the hospital, collecting more than 700,000 views.
Numerous accounts promoted a faked document saying that the White House had approved $8 billion in aid to Israel. Others posted video of buildings collapsing in Syria in the past and said they were in Gaza.
Spokespeople for X did not return e-mails seeking comment.
X and other real-time sources of information are especially subject to rumours, false claims and propaganda during major events.
Researchers have said that X has gotten much less reliable since Musk took control nearly a year ago. He ended the practice of awarding “verified” checks to established media accounts, stopped labelling some accounts as government-affiliated and began sending money to accounts drawing heavy engagement, rewarding views instead of accuracy.
A recent study published by the European Commission concluded that Russian propaganda about its war in Ukraine has reached more people on X this year than it did last year.
“People who have paid for blue checks have a financial incentive to LARP [live action role-play] as war reporters by dredging up old stories or fake footage,” Brooking wrote. “Elon Musk enables this.”
Last week, Musk said he would change the way articles are shared by removing the headlines and promoting only pictures, which experts said would decrease traffic to news sites.
Musk also has been contributing to a broader legal and political campaign that has succeeded in quieting some academics and research groups who track misinformation by accusing them of fostering unconstitutional censorship. He has threatened to sue the Anti-Defamation League over its reports showing a rise in anti-Semitic posts on X since Musk bought it last October.
Biden administration officials did not respond immediately to questions about whether it was working with social media companies to identify misinformation. The US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, which is among the government agencies being targeted by Musk and some Republicans, referred questions to the State Department, which monitors foreign disinformation.
Officials there did not respond to a query. The White House also did not respond to e-mails.
– THE WASHINGTON POST