Musk deleted his recommendation soon after posting it, but not before it was viewed over 11 million times. Later on Sunday, Musk wrote: “As always, please try to stay as close to the truth as possible, even for stuff you don’t like.”
Experts believe that the proliferation of disinformation on X around the Israel-Hamas conflict this weekend is largely the result of changes Musk has made to the platform over the past year, including his decision to fire most of the people responsible for tackling disinformation.
“Elon Musk’s changes to the platform work entirely to the benefit of terrorists and war propagandists,” Emerson Brooking, a researcher at the Atlantic Council Digital Forensics Research Lab, tells WIRED. “Changes in profit and incentive structure mean that there’s a lot more tendency for people to share at high volume information which may not be true because they are trying to maximize view counts. 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.”
X, which eliminated its entire PR team last year, responded to WIRED’s request for comment on the proliferation of disinformation on its platform with the automated message: “Busy now, please check back later.”
Peden says the Twitter algorithm has been designed to boost content that gets the most engagement, which incentivizes bad actors to share disinformation.
“The videos and images that you’re seeing of air strikes, they’re very prolific,” Peden says. “They’re very hard-hitting, and unfortunately that means engagement does incredibly, incredibly well. These images are horrible and dramatic, and they perform well. So there is an incentive by others, especially those trying to push a narrative to share an old video from years ago, just because people love looking at the stuff.”
In an echo of what happened when Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, much of the primary footage emerging from the Israel-Hamas conflict over the weekend was posted first on the encrypted message platform Telegram. From there, it was taken and reshared on other platforms, but in most cases the footage was not fact-checked first or it was taken out of context to suit the narrative being pushed by the poster.
“There’s an immense amount of primary content that was first posted in Telegram groups in one form or another, but there’s essentially no way to vet that information. Then that primary information hits others platforms, notably Twitter, where there’s an immense battle of spin and narrative taking place,” Brooking says. “You have artisans on every side, as well as sympathizers from one group or another, who are also joining this [battle].”
The situation is so bad on X right now that even seasoned OSINT researchers are being duped by fake accounts, including one that shared a false claim about Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu being hospitalized over the weekend.
“Any sort of ground truth, which was always hard to get on Twitter, is now entirely out of reach,” Brooking says.