February 24, 2024

On X — the social network formerly called Twitter — about 74% of the most-viral posts promoting misinformation about the Israel-Hamas War were shared by verified blue check-mark accounts, according to a new study.

In the first week following Hamas’ deadly terrorist attack on Israeli civilians (Oct. 7-14), NewsGuard, a company that maintains a system rating the credibility of news and information websites, analyzed the 250 most-engaged posts on X/Twitter that promoted 10 “prominent false or unsubstantiated narratives” relating to the conflict. According to the NewsGuard analysis, 186 of the 250 posts (74%) were posted by accounts verified by X. Collectively, the posts in the analysis advancing false or unsubstantiated information received about 1.35 million engagements and were cumulatively viewed more than 100 million times in the one-week period, according to NewsGuard.

Under Elon Musk’s revamped blue check-mark verification program, users of X Premium (which costs $8 per month) are able to get verified status, which under Twitter’s previous regime was intended to signal authentic and reliable accounts. Currently, posts from X Premium users are prioritized by the platform’s algorithm so they appear more prominently in users’ feeds. “That decision turned out to be a boon for bad actors sharing misinformation about the Israel-Hamas War,” NewsGuard said in its study. “For less than the cost of a movie ticket, they have gained the added credibility associated with the once-prestigious blue checkmark and enabling them to reach a larger audience on the platform.”

The 10 false or unsubstantiated claims identified by NewsGuard shared by verified accounts on X included the following: the falsehood that Ukraine sold weapons to Hamas; a video purporting to show Hamas fighters celebrating the abduction of an Israeli toddler; a bogus claim that CNN staged footage of its news crew under attack in Israel; and the conspiracy theory that Hamas terrorist attack was a “false flag” carried out by Israel and/or Western nations.

Per NewsGuard’s analysis, far-right activist Laura Loomer, a former Project Veritas reporter who is verified on X and has more than 633,000 followers, shared three war-related myths, including that the U.S. sent $8 billion in military aid to Israel. Her Oct. 7 post falsely claiming the U.S. had given military aid to Israel was viewed 360,000 times through Oct. 14, according to NewsGuard.

X has said it is taking numerous steps to fight misinformation about the Israel-Hamas conflict. In response to an EU inquiry last week, CEO Linda Yaccarino said X has “taken action to remove or label tens of thousands of pieces of content” that could include false information about the attacks in Israel.

“X is committed to serving the public conversation, especially in critical moments like this and understands the importance of addressing any illegal content that may be disseminated through the platform,” Yaccarino wrote in the response to EU commissioner Thierry Breton. “There is no place on X for terrorist organizations or violent extremist groups and we continue to remove such accounts in real time, including proactive efforts.”

NewsGuard said its analysis of posts related to the Israel-Hamas war may undercount X Premium accounts, given that the platform recently introduced a feature that lets subscribers hide their blue check mark.

NewsGuard said it has also identified false or unsubstantiated narratives relating to the war “spreading widely on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Telegram and elsewhere.” But the company said it chose to focus on X “because it appears to be the only platform that has been public about the reduction in its moderation efforts” and that it found that “most of the false narratives relating to the Israel-Hamas War so far appear to go viral on X before they spread to other platforms such as TikTok and Instagram.”

Musk has touted X’s Community Notes crowdsourced fact-checking feature as providing a critical way to flag misinformation. Indeed, NewsGuard found that Community Notes fact-checks did appear on 21 of the top 25 posts it had identified as advancing the false claim that a video showed Hamas fighters with a kidnapped Israeli toddler. However, according to the NewsGuard report, Community Notes were “inconsistently applied to top myths relating to the conflict” in the first week and were not applied to posts containing misinformation 68% of the time.

Meanwhile, Musk early Friday announced that X would soon launch two new tiers of X Premium: one that is lower cost “with all features, but no reduction in ads,” and the other one “more expensive, but has no ads.”

X/Twitter also is planning to charge all new users a $1 annual fee to be able to post, repost, like and engage in other “write” functions on the platform. The company this week kicked off a test of the Not a Bot tier in New Zealand and the Philippines, which Musk argued is the “only way” to prevent bots from proliferating on X.

New York-based NewsGuard says it provides “a human solution to misinformation by rating the reliability of news and information sites.” The firm’s ratings, on a scale of zero to 100, are based on “nine objective journalistic criteria” and “give people more context for what they read online.” Investors in NewGuard include Investors include the Knight Foundation, Publicis Groupe, Cox Investment Holdings and Leo Hindery.

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