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X becomes an engagement farm while the Israel and Hamas conflict worsens

  • As conflict worsens between Hamas and Israel, misinformation runs rampant on X.
  • X owner Elon Musk told his followers to follow an account known for spreading hatred, propaganda and misinformation.
  • As the conflict wages on and accounts post content about it, Community Notes appears to be working overtime but not as fast as misinformation can spread.

At the weekend, conflict between Israel and Hamas intensified, as the latter conducted a surprise attack against Israel in which 2 200 – 5 000 rockets were launched. After that, militants from Gaza entered Israel and now a full-scale war has begun between the nations.

The casualties are climbing and both sides are taking hostages in what was quickly called the most aggressive conflict between the two nations. CNN reports that in 2004, the two sides fired nearly 4 000 rockets, that number was seemingly eclipsed this weekend.

As many tend to do during newsworthy events, folks flocked to X (formerly Twitter) in hopes of keeping up with news from reliable sources. Unfortunately, the weekend saw much of the discussion about the conflict centred around fake news.

Since the Israel and Hamas conflict began, disinformation, out-of-context video clips, and more have circulated on X and the platform appears to be struggling with moderation. So much so that X owner, Elon Musk had to beg users to stick to the truth, sort of.

“As always, please try stay as close to the truth as possible, even for stuff you don’t like. This platform aspires to maximize signal/noise of the human collective,” the billionaire said.

This plea came as X’s fact-checking service, Community Notes, kicked into overdrive. X users, particularly Verified subscribers have taken to posting content, including video that lies about what is happening on the ground in Israel and Gaza.

Verified Accounts with hundreds of thousands of followers are posting clips from videogames claiming they are clips from the conflict. Others are posting older clips from old conflicts – some on the other side of the world from a different conflict. Perhaps most alarming is how slow Community Notes is to label content as misinformation or disinformation given that the feature is driven by volunteers. Community Notes also need to receive a large number of votes in order to be made visible, something that takes a while.

“Contributors can leave notes on any post and if enough contributors from different points of view rate that note as helpful, the note will be publicly shown on a post,” reads an X Help Center article. Last week, X announced that Community Notes would appear 1.5 to 3.5 hours faster, but that’s not really fast enough given the rate at which news travels.

And this weekend news travelled on X faster than fact checkers could label it. X also no longer has a Trust and Safety team, instead relying entirely on the aforementioned volunteers to police content. To make a worse situation even more tenuous, Musk himself told his followers to follow accounts that are known for spreading misinformation and propaganda. The X owner ultimately removed the post.

This has made navigating X in search of actual news rather tricky. Not that long ago, one could use the Verification Mark as a way to quickly determine if an account is trustworthy. Now Verified Users are trying to farm engagement by posting content that riles people up and garners clicks. Remember, that X launched monetisation which pays Verified users for the views their content generates, this weekend saw many of those users posting content with the sole purpose of amping up their engagement figures, and ultimately, their ad revenue share.

Musk has been espousing the values of “citizen journalism” of late, but this weekend highlighted that the amplification offered to Verified Users is being abused to spread misinformation, and disinformation and earn money from their false statements. Critics have lambasted Musk for lowering Twitter’s guardrails and allowing misinformation to flourish.

Where once Twitter was the destination for news as it unfolded, X has become an engagement farm and the global town square its owner spoke of is just a cacophony of videogame clips and misinformation. It’s unclear how X will tackle this problem, if at all.

It seems folks are going to have to head to trusted news sources for updates, the exact opposite of what Musk et al are trying to change with X.

We hadn’t realised that when Musk spoke of an “everything app” that everything included disinformation.

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