After the most recent deadly attacks by Hamas on Israel and the Israeli military’s response, a coordinated effort among journalists, researchers, open-source intelligence (OSINT) specialists, and fact-checkers emerged to quickly verify the abundance of unprocessed video footage and images from people on the ground that were circulating online.
However, a tidal wave of misinformation was confronted by people who used X (formerly known as Twitter) to look for information about the war.
Even if disinformation is currently being spread quickly about almost all significant world events in an effort to skew the narrative, the extent and speed with which it flooded debates about the Israel-Hamas war, especially on X, was unprecedented.
OSINT researcher Justin Peden stated:
For many reasons, this is the hardest time I’ve ever had covering a crisis on here. Credible links are now photos. On the ground news outlets struggle to reach audiences without an expensive blue check mark. Xenophobic goons are boosted by the platform’s CEO. End times, folks.
When Peden covered the conflict in Gaza in 2021, the majority of the content on his feed came from local sources or reliable news organizations. But over the last weekend, he saw that it had become incredibly difficult to locate true primary sources or verified content on X.
Posts from users with a blue checkmark quickly rose to the top of news feeds for people looking for information about the violence, which was exacerbated by the platform’s algorithm that prioritizes users ready to spend $8 per month for a premium subscription.
Users of X were instead exposed to fraudulent information, such as video game footage that was misrepresented as actual footage of a Hamas attack and pictures of fireworks displays in Algeria that were misrepresented as Israeli airstrikes on Hamas.
A three-year-old film from the Syrian civil war was repurposed to appear as though it was shot during the recent events, and there were fake pictures of soccer star Ronaldo raising the Palestinian flag.
Hundreds of thousands of people viewed and engaged with these pictures and videos. A disclaimer from X’s malfunctioning community fact-checking system was later added to some of this content, although a sizable portion was not.
Elon Musk, the CEO of Twitter, exacerbated the situation, as he has in the past, by endorsing a website that is infamous for disseminating false information.
The first account recommended by Elon Musk is well-known for highly questionable posts about Jewish people, and the second is one of the worst "osint" accounts when it comes to posting misleading and unsourced content. pic.twitter.com/F2TZMb3wUH
— Shayan Sardarizadeh (@Shayan86) October 8, 2023
Shortly after publishing it, Musk took his advice down, but not before it had been watched by more than 11 million people.