Slamming wartime misinformation while shaking hands with the man responsible for it

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Israeli leaders are calling for the end of disinformation in the war while shaking hands with the man behind so much of it - Elon Musk. The current war has turned X into a human behavior experiment, and we are the lab rats.

CEO of X (formerly known as Twitter) Elon Musk, meets National Unity leader Benny Gantz. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90

The horrors of October 7th, and the war that ensued, were met with the chaotic information ecosystem that is X (formerly Twitter), a platform stripped bare of its safety mechanisms and content controls. Earlier this year, Elon Musk dismantled the institution of "Verified Accounts," allowing anyone to purchase the "blue checkmark" for money, thus increasing the perceived legitimacy of rumor-mongers and hindering the dissemination of news from reliable sources. Musk also introduced an ad-reward program tied to exposure, incentivizing creators to generate shocking, viral content, even if it's fake. He nearly eliminated trust and safety teams and decided to remove headlines and article summaries from links attached to tweets, making it even more challenging to identify reliable sources.

So, what has transpired since the onset of the war? According to a publication from the Israel State Attorney's Cyber Unit in mid-October, requests for the removal of information inciting terror skyrocketed by 1000%. The Department notes that Meta (Facebook) responded to around 90% of these requests, while TikTok addressed 85% of inquiries. It did not share data from X (Twitter), instead sharing a statement that they are currently working to improve contact with the company in order to improve its responsiveness to requests. In other words, X's intervention is minimal, at best, even when it comes to terror-related content.

A report published by X in October reveals that it employs only two content reviewers, a number that has not increased, responsible for eight million Hebrew speaking potential users.  Another report, submitted to the European Union regarding the war, lacks data on fact-checking and offers no breakdown by EU countries that could provide valuable insights.

But this is just the beginning. Two months into the war, X has become a central platform for disseminating anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic messages worldwide. This occurs due to three parallel processes. First, the absence of content monitoring, allowing for the proliferation of blatantly anti-Semitic, anti-Israeli, pro-Russian, and neo-Nazi content. For instance, when Roger Waters claimed on X that Hamas did not kill Israeli civilians but rather the IDF shot them all, he echoed The Grayzone, an account owned by Max Blumenthal, an avowed Israel hater who equates Israelis with Nazis and Isis. Thus, X has become a key platform for the publication and promotion of propaganda, while financially rewarding those behind it.

The second process involves the emergence of new accounts that have overtaken those of the established media, which are still committed to fact-checking. A study from the University of Washington reveals that a small group of seven accounts, mostly unknown a year ago, gained hundreds of millions of views daily, significantly influencing the discourse around the war. Musk has directly interacted with six of these accounts, drawing more public attention to them and exposing them to his 162 million followers. Three of these accounts belong to a young British man who posts anti-Semitic content, an American soldier in Georgia who sources his content from dubious pro-Russian news sites, and an extreme right-wing group in Poland. Musk recommended two of them (@sentdefender, @warmonitors), which he later deleted when it became clear they were spreading disinformation, though he still follows both accounts. These accounts use X in a way that disorients its users, posting new information regularly with extreme graphics and images forbidden by Twitter, in theory, but the content is not removed. Their posts do not include links to additional information, thereby achieving even greater dissemination because Musk reduced the value of tweets with links.

The third process involves Twitter's recommendation algorithm, whereby it suggests accounts full of disinformation or recommends tweets with the expression "Hitler was right" in English to Israeli users.

The lack of content monitoring and Twitter becoming a platform for spreading anti-Semitic messages prompted major advertisers in the United States to announce last week that they would stop advertising on it. If the advertisers can't stomach it, why would the State of Israel?

Musk met yesterday with key leaders in Israel, including the Prime Minister. Our leaders are calling for the end of disinformation in the war while shaking hands with the man behind so much of it. Such meetings with Musk won't make X a more friendly platform to the State of Israel—the harm he has generated is built into the platform through features that encourage the spread of harmful messages. Banning the expression "from the river to the sea" will not change this.

Twitter's conduct in the war has been one of the main factors reinforcing the connection between the information crisis, the weakening of nation-states, and extreme identity politics. A direct line can be drawn between this and Musk's dismissive response to the European Union's request for X to implement its responsibilities under European legislation; his threat to connect Gaza to the internet through Starlink, thereby harming the Israeli interests in the war; and his use of over 160 million followers to amplify messages and accounts with false and anti-Semitic information. The current war has turned X into a human behavior experiment, and we are the lab rats. Those who sought out a photo-op with Musk yesterday must not be fooled into believing otherwise.


This article was published in the Times of Israel

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