Elon Musk Twitter X
Andrea Austria / Media Matters

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Elon Musk’s X hits a tipping point, with widespread condemnation of misinformation about Hamas’ attack on Israel flooding the platform

Journalists, experts, and users of X blast Musk and CEO Linda Yaccarino’s policies as making the platform worse than useless

According to disinformation experts and multiple news reports, the deluge of misinformation on Elon Musk’s social media platform X about Hamas’ attack on Israel was caused by changes that he made to the platform since taking over. 

These changes included reshaping the platform’s approach to content moderation, making drastic cuts to its trust and safety team, reinstating banned accounts, allowing any user to purchase a verification checkmark, and amplifying posts from these “verified” accounts to other users. 

The misinformation problem on the site is so extreme that numerous journalists and experts are warning that X (formerly known as Twitter) is now useless as a reliable source of information in a crisis.

  • Hamas-Israel misinformation on Twitter/X stems in part from Musk’s changes to the platform

  • Numerous news organizations and experts that combat online misinformation have reported on the many examples of false and misleading posts on X about the Hamas-Israel war, including videos from past conflicts falsely presented as being from the present war. 

    But some disinformation experts and news reports are now explaining that Musk’s own changes to the platform have contributed to this flood of misinformation.

    • Business Insider: “X has been slower to act on the misinformation that's swamped the platform after Elon Musk cut hundreds of trust and safety workers.” Business Insider noted that false posts about the Hamas-Israel war have remained on X, with many lacking community notes to provide factual context or corrections. The report noted that “prior to Musk's takeover, there were around 230 people in the trust and safety team working on content moderation,” but there are only “currently about 20 full-time employees on the trust and safety team.” [Business Insider, 10/11/23]
    • Bloomberg reported that Musk’s X “failed” the “test” of this war due to “changes to verification” and safety policies. Bloomberg’s article quoted conspiracy theory researcher Mike Rothschild saying that “Musk's changes haven't just made X useless during a time of crisis. They've made it actively worse.” Aside from the trust and safety employee cuts, it reported that Musk “loosened” rules on the platform, “reinstated once-banned accounts and allowed people to pay for a checkmark on the social network.” Bloomberg noted that “many of the posts” pushing false information about the war “ were pushed by anonymous accounts that carried blue checkmarks — signaling that they had purchased verification under X’s ‘premium’ subscription service, formerly known as Twitter Blue.” [Bloomberg, 10/9/23]
    • Reuters noted: “Part of the challenge for those combating fake information online is that changes made by Musk earlier this year have made it more difficult to track the full scale of deception on X.” Their reporting noted that “researchers studying the origins and proliferation of misinformation said they have lost the ability to automatically track keywords, hashtags and other information about real-time events, as X eliminated access to a data tool that was free to academics before Musk's acquisition of the platform in October last year.” [Reuters, 10/10/23]
    • A disinformation researcher told Wired that “Elon Musk’s changes to the platform work entirely to the benefit of terrorists and war propagandists.” In an article on the flood of misinformation about the Hamas-Israel war on the platform, Wired interviewed Emerson Brooking of the Atlantic Council Digital Forensics Research Lab. He told Wired that changes on the platform “in profit and incentive structure mean that there’s a lot more tendency for people to share at high volume information which may not be true because they are trying to maximize view counts.” [Wired, 10/9/23]
    • The Information reported that months ago, Musk’s X “ceased utilizing a software tool used to identify organized misinformation now spreading across the platform.” The Information, which reports on the tech industry, explained that Musk’s X “shut down an internal product that could identify when different accounts shared the same or similar media, according to two people with direct knowledge of the situation.” It added, “Such identification is an important part of dealing with coordinated disinformation campaigns, where networks of fake accounts post the same image or video.” [The Information, 10/9/23]
    • Wash. Post reported that X owner and chairman Musk “personally recommended that users follow accounts notorious for promoting lies.” Musk, who currently has more than 159 million followers on the platform, said: “For following the war in real-time, @WarMonitors & @sentdefender are good.” Musk later deleted the post, but within three hours, it had already been viewed 11 million times. Wired reported that “the @WarMonitors account had a history of posting antisemitic comments on X.” [The Washington Post, 10/8/23; Twitter/X, accessed 10/9/23; Wired, 10/9/23]
  • Journalists explain the deluge of misinformation on Musk’s X has made it useless — or worse — during a crisis

    • ABC News producer Ben Siegel remarked in a post on X that, “This platform has become a completely useless - if not actively harmful - source of information during a global crisis.” Responding to Siegel’s post, Spectrum News Washington reporter Reuben Jones agreed, writing, “100% yes.” [Twitter/X, 10/11/23, 10/11/23]
    • NBC News deputy tech editor Ben Goggin posted a thread about the failure of Twitter/X to apply community notes correcting disinformation posts in a timely manner. Goggin explained: “Out of 120 posts containing fake news that I reviewed, only 8% had community notes, 26% had unpublished notes, and 66% had neither. … And this is supposed to be Elon Musk's solution to misinformation.” [Twitter/X, 10/10/23, 10/10/23]
    • Bloomberg technology reporter Davey Alba: “Our reporting found that posts abt the attack in Israel have led to confusion, misinformation and conflict on Musk's X (yes, this website), exposing how his policy changes have transformed the platform into an unreliable resource during a time of crisis.” [Twitter/X, 10/9/23]
    • BBC Verify disinformation reporter Shayan Sardarizadeh: “I've been fact-checking on Twitter for years, and there's always plenty of misinformation during major events. But the deluge of false posts in the last two days, many boosted via Twitter Blue, is something else. Neither fact-checkers nor Community Notes can keep up with this.” [Twitter/X, 10/8/23]
    • Sardarizadeh wrote a Twitter/X thread documenting “online misinformation [that] is rampant following the escalation of violence between Israel and Hamas” on October 7. Sardarizadeh called out multiple posts for disinformation, including some spread by right-wing media figures Charlie Kirk and Ian Miles Cheong that had millions of views. [Twitter/X, 10/7/23, 10/7/23]
    • St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Aisha Sultan shared Sardarizadeh’s thread, adding, “This is so much misinformation on this site now, rendering it useless during a crisis. Major breaking news used to be when Twitter was most valuable. Now, it's when it becomes most dangerous.” [Twitter/X, 10/9/23]
    • Former New York Times cybersecurity reporter Nicole Perlroth: “What a week to remove headlines @lindayaX and break this site. Unusable when people are desperate for on the ground, real-time updates. Shameless.” [Twitter/X, 10/11/23]
    • Thomson Reuters Foundation reporter Avi Asher-Schapiro noted that “In recent weeks Musk had said legacy media is useless —he made it much more difficult to use Twitter as a tool to link to/follow news reports. At the same time, verified Twitter accounts have been flooding the site w/fabricated info about Israel/Palestine.” In a second post, Asher-Schapiro shared Twitter’s crisis misinformation policy, adding, “It will be interesting to see if Twitter/X releases any data about how it's enforcing its ‘crisis misinformation’ policy’ at the moment -they claim to ‘reduce visibility’ of accounts spreading demonstrable false info. How's that going?” [Twitter/X, 10/9/23, 10/11/23]
    • After X’s official account posted a statement on how it planned to address the misinformation surrounding the conflict, Ascher-Schapiro noted, “In this long statement on how Twitter (X) is responding to the situation in Israel/Palestine - there's no comment on the proliferation of verified (paid) accounts spreading fabricated & fake images/information.” [Twitter/X, 10/9/23
    • Bellingcat founder and creative director Eliot Higgins pointed to a specific piece of misinformation that had circulated across X, noting that “multiple blue tick accounts [were] repeating an unverified claim that had no evidence to back it up. Musk has created a fundamental issue with Twitter's credibility in moments of crisis.” In a later post, Higgins added that “Musk hasn't given the voiceless a voice, he's just dragged us all down into the swamp, and the only people who truly benefit are shameless grifters.” [Twitter/X, 10/10/23, 10/10/23]
    • DePaul University journalist in residence Chris Bury wrote: “My students, who are genuinely interested in finding solid sources, are incredibly frustrated by the massive flood of disinformation over the past few days.” [Twitter/X, 10/9/23]
    • Rolling Stone's Adam Rawnsley wrote: “There is always ideological and clout-chasing bullshit during any public crisis. Part of the reason why Twitter has become useless-to-harmful in this crisis is that the company has opened a whole new motivation of bullshit spreading with ad revenue sharing.” In a second post, he added, “It's not just Internet points people are chasing by vomiting up nonsense. Now Elon has provided a financial incentive.” [Twitter/X, 10/11/23, 10/11/23]
    • Mashable reporter Matt Binder: “Nearly every thing that's gone viral on this platform over the past few days has been wrong.” Binder specified: “people reported dead who are actually alive,” “video game footage shared claiming to show real bombings,” and “photos shared with the complete opposite context of what's actually depicted.” [Twitter/X, 10/11/23]
    • MSNBC host Rachel Maddow: “At an important time like this, having links just post as pictures makes twitter unusable -- at a practical, fundamental level -- as a place to share checkable information.” [Twitter/X, 10/9/23]
    • NBC News senior reporter Ben Collins: “This site doesn't work to receive accurate information anymore. As intended.” Collins added in a separate post: “Those people who spent years downplaying for-profit disinformation as a serious and urgent problem should not be taken seriously again. They were belligerent in the war on destroying objective reality, either to further their own personal grudges or make money themselves.” [Twitter/X, 10/9/23, 10/9/23]
    • Lorraine Ali, television critic for the Los Angeles Times, stated that Musk’s leadership took Twitter “from a frenetic crossroads of breaking news and opinion to a playground for falsehoods and propaganda sowed by bad actors.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/10/23]
    • Journalist Wesley Lowery wrote that “there are lots of fair critiques of pre-Musk Twitter, but that company unquestionably prioritized and invested significant resources in boosting factual information and discourse in moments of true consequence in a way that is now completely absent from this site,” citing misinformation regarding Hamas’ attack on Israel. [Twitter/X, 10/10/23]
    • Reuters reporter Chris Bing posted that “its so clear Twitter is a shadow of itself when trying to follow a major/breaking event.” Bing’s post was in response to Wall Street Journal reporter Dustin Volz, who stated, “It's not just X/Twitter, though the decline in quality and reliability is without parallel. The broader content-sharing internet continues to fragment and exploit.” [Twitter/X, 10/10/23, 10/10/23]
    • Sharing a link for his column in The New European, James Ball stated, “Twitter’s fake news over Israel and Hamas is a consequence of Elon Musk’s actions. The social network has been reprogrammed in a way that encourages and monetises disinformation.” [Twitter/X, 10/11/23]
    • Former BuzzFeed editor Brandon Hardin remarked in a social media post that “this is the first big news cycle where I've felt I was better off NOT looking at Twitter. RIP to a real one I guess.” [Twitter/X, 10/8/23]
    • Foreign policy reporter Laura Rozen directly pointed to Musk’s decision to remove headlines from shared articles for the influx of misinformation. Her post read, “It would be very helpful for Twitter users trying to follow the crisis in Israel/Palestine territories if there were url links so they could evaluate the news source before clicking on photos, @lindayaX.” [Twitter/X, 10/7/23]
    • NBC reporter Kevin Collier posted: “Almost everything I do see [on Twitter] is here unverifiable, plus a lot that's provably false. Which isn't just unhelpful, it's actively misleading. A lot of natsec Twitter has rehomed to BlueSky but not enough, and the site isn't ready for this.” [Twitter/X, 10/8/23]
    • New York Times columnist David French: “If you go to X right now, you will immediately get *less* informed about the Gaza War, and the reason isn't “free speech.” Twitter isn't an open marketplace of ideas, it's a pay-to-play algorithmic nightmare that boosts your content on the basis of your financial commitment to Twitter or your ability to catch Elon Musk's attention.” [Threads, 10/11/23]
    • Garbage Day newsletter writer Ryan Broderick wrote X has “continued to remain at the top of the digital funnel while also being 4chan-levels of rotten.” Broderick wrote about X's toxicity at length: “As an exercise, I tried to keep track of what I was seeing online this weekend from Israel and Palestine. And it has been, of course, impossible to follow anything. My understanding of what’s going on has not just been muddled by platforms like X, but warped entirely. … I’ve seen so much content reported, debunked, and rebunked(?) that I think I’ve reached the limits of my mind’s ability to understand reality. To say nothing of the endless cascade of horrifying violence X is serving up via the autoplaying videos it bricks my phone’s battery with, posted by verified accounts who are actively monetizing them, whether they’re genuine or not. … And this dogshit content swirling inside of X is also still guiding what’s being posted everywhere else. Big subreddits and popular Instagram accounts (and legitimate digital publishers) are full of screenshots of the same stuff I’m seeing on X. If Twitter was the cultural engine of the English-speaking internet in the 2010s, it’s now spewing oil into every other part of the internet and there are no mechanisms in place to contain it. … Instead of X dissolving into a digital backwater for divorced guys with NFT debt, it has, instead, continued to remain at the top of the digital funnel while also being 4chan-levels of rotten. It is still being used to process current events in “real time” even though it does not have the tools, nor the leadership necessary to handle that responsibility. The inmates are running the asylum and there is nothing on the horizon to convince that that will get better.” [Garbage Day substack, 10/12/23]
    • Slate’s Scott Nover: “Musk’s changes to the foundation of how Twitter works have not only rendered Twitter useless as a means of making sense of the conflict as (or even hours after) it unfolds, but made it actively counterproductive for users trying to figure out what’s going on." Norver continued, writing: “As Musk and Twitter CEO Linda Yaccarino have rolled back the platform’s rules of engagement and rid their ranks of the content-moderation teams and tools that actually keep X trustworthy, they’ve also put in place a system that fundamentally incentivizes the spread of misinformation during times of mass panic and confusion, in part because X is now a platform that pays for viral content. The end result is that Twitter, more so than any other platform right now, is fertile ground for a new kind of war profiteering. [Slate, 10/11/23]
    • Writer David Moscrop: “The Israel-Hamas war is the first major test of the new Twitter. It has confirmed what we knew — the new space is more toxic and hostile, less reliable, and, in short, a threat to the flow of essential public information at home and around the world. And now, more than ever, the worst people have the greatest incentive to indulge their wretched and cynical impulses and to make it harder for everyone else to sort out what’s going on around the world.” [DavidMoscrop.com, 10/10/23]
    • Platformer's Casey Newton: “This is a system designed to cause chaos in the information environment, and it is working by design.” Newton also wrote: “Users repeatedly expressed surprise over the weekend that X had deteriorated as a real-time news source as much as it has. But Musk has been eliminating the safeguards that once made Twitter at least somewhat reliable as a source of news for months now. He blew up the old verification system, replacing a hand-picked group of journalists whose identities were confirmed by the company with a hodgepodge of culture warriors paying $8 a month to float to the top of replies. He began paying the culture warriors based on the views they got. He blocked and threatened reporters. He sued activists. He began charging eye-watering rates to access the platform’s API, driving away academic researchers. He stripped headlines off the previews of articles. He promoted the accounts of conspiracy theories and right-wing extremists. ... Everyone has a different breaking point. Plenty of people found theirs weeks or months earlier. But judging from the conversations on Bluesky and Threads this weekend, X’s lack of usability during the crisis sparked a fresh reckoning with a new set of former diehards.” [Platformer, 10/9/23]
  • Experts also called out Musk’s X for rapidly becoming useless

    • Princeton University history professor Kevin M. Kruse: “This site has gotten steadily worse with every ‘improvement’ Elon has made, but this weekend made it clear that it's no longer a place to get and discuss breaking news.” Kruse added in a subsequent post: “It's just a cesspool for the worst people on social media and it's getting worse every week.” [Twitter/X, 10/10/23, 10/10/23]
    • Johns Hopkins governmental studies lecturer Lee Drutman reposted Kruse’s criticism, agreeing, “He’s right.” [Twitter/X, 10/10/23]
    • Tufts University international politics professor Daniel Drezner linked to a Wired story on misinformation on Twitter/X and wrote: “Seriously, @elonmusk and @lindayaX, just come out and admit you don’t give a shit about what’s true and what’s not.” In a previous post, Drezner linked to a Washington Post story on the social media platform’s misinformation problem and wrote: “Heckuva job you’re doing burning this festering pile of dung into the ground, @elonmusk and @lindayaX!!!” [Twitter/X, 10/9/23, 10/9/23]
    • Eurasia Group and GZERO Media founder Ian Bremmer: “The level of disinformation on israel-hamas war being algorithmically promoted on twitter is unlike anything i’ve ever been exposed to in my career as a political scientist.” [Twitter/X, 10/9/23]
    • Johns Hopkins conflict studies professor Francesco Strazzari reposted GZERO Media founder Ian Bremmer’s criticism and added: “This has been going on for a while now. The amount of crap appearing in timeline out of nowhere and for no reason has no precedent.” [Twitter/X, 10/9/23]
    • Queensland University of Technology professor and disinformation researcher Timothy Graham reposted Bremmer’s criticism and added: “It’s almost as if… the platform is now hard wired for exploitation and deception.” [Twitter/X, 10/9/23]
    • Conspiracy theory researcher Mike Rothschild: “Musk Twitter isn't just useless today, it's actively harmful. Conspiracy theories, disinformation, hate speech, fake images, and graphic pictures and videos are being shared at will by verified accounts making ad money off their lies and the trauma of others.” In a separate post, Rothschild wrote: “Given that it's become almost impossible to quickly discern fact from fiction on Twitter, today is a good day to not tweet.” [Twitter/X, 10/7/23, 10/7/23]
    • Atlantic Council senior fellow Emerson T. Brooking stated that users “who have paid for blue checks have a financial incentive to LARP [live-action role play] as war reporters by dredging up old stories or fake footage. Elon Musk enables this.” In an earlier post, Brooking commented that Musk’s decision to remove headlines from shared articles “is a major boon for terrorists and war propagandists. it makes a difficult, fast-moving situation absolutely indecipherable.” [Twitter/X, 10/7/23, 10/7/23]
    • University of East Anglia Law School senior lecturer in information technology Paul Bernal stated in a post that Twitter is “worse than useless now: more misinformation than information.” [Twitter/X, 10/9/23]
    • New York University associate professor of journalism Jay Rosen shared an excerpt from Scott Nover’s coverage for Slate, adding, “Twitter is Now a Fog-of-War Machine.” [Twitter/X, 10/11/23]
    • University of Cambridge professor Sander van der Linden told Business Insider, “I would be fairly confident to say that a lot of what we’re seeing right now is a direct result of the policy changes that were implemented by Musk.” [Business Insider, 10/10/23]