X (formerly Twitter) users seeking breaking news about the Israel-Hamas conflict are bombarded with old videos, fake images, and video game footage at an unprecedented scale, according to researchers.
Amidst Hamas’ recent attacks on Israel and Israel’s response, individuals such as journalists, researchers, and fact-checkers rushed to verify the barrage of raw online content. However, on X, the disinformation flood was overwhelming.
Verified information or primary sources were nearly impossible to find on X, making it challenging to locate genuine, on-the-ground accounts. This challenge was compounded by the algorithm’s promotion of users with blue checkmarks, who pay for X’s premium subscription, causing their posts to dominate news feeds.
Instead of receiving verified and fact-checked data, X users were presented with video game footage passed off as actual Hamas attacks and images of fireworks in Algeria misrepresented as Israeli strikes on Hamas. Additionally, fake pictures of soccer superstar Ronaldo holding the Palestinian flag circulated, along with a three-year-old video from the Syrian civil war manipulated to appear recent.
As a result, researchers found themselves debunking old content rather than verifying and sharing real footage from the conflict. Despite some content being flagged by X’s community fact-checking system, many misleading posts remained untouched.
Elon Musk, X’s CEO, exacerbated the situation by recommending accounts known for spreading disinformation to his 150 million followers. This move was widely criticized, as these accounts had a history of sharing false information and making antisemitic comments.
Experts attribute the proliferation of disinformation on X to changes Musk made to the platform, including the dismissal of personnel responsible for combating disinformation.
X responded to inquiries with an automated message, indicating its busyness.
The X algorithm rewards content with high engagement, incentivizing bad actors to share disinformation. Additionally, much of the primary footage from the Israel-Hamas conflict emerged on encrypted messaging platform Telegram, where it was subsequently shared on other platforms without fact-checking or context.
The situation on X is so dire that even experienced researchers are falling for fake accounts and false claims. Ground truth, which was already challenging to obtain on Twitter, is now nearly impossible to ascertain.