Elon Musk Free Speech
Molly Butler / Media Matters

Research/Study Research/Study

Musk’s X allows misinformation about Hamas’ war on Israel to proliferate

Verified X Premium subscribers — some endorsed by platform owner Elon Musk — earned millions of views on posts with misleading videos, a doctored photo, and other misinformation

Update (10/10/23): This piece has been updated to include additional examples.

As the terrorist organization Hamas launched surprise attacks on Israel, Elon Musk’s X (formerly Twitter) had its first test amid a global crisis. The platform failed spectacularly, with misinformation proliferating as paid verified accounts spread misleading videos, a doctored photo, and other misinformation. Additionally, accounts on X impersonated a news outlet and another official entity, and Musk himself endorsed and interacted with accounts that spread misinformation.

  • Verified X Premium subscribers shared misleading videos, a doctored photo, and other misinformation

  • Since October 7, X Premium subscribers, which are often verified with a blue check mark, shared at least a dozen misleading videos — including out-of-context videos and old videos purporting to be recent — that earned millions of views, along with other misinformation.  

    • Verified X users have been spreading a video purporting to show what is “happening in Gaza,” often with the phrase, “If Russia did this in Kiev.” The TikTok video shown in the posts was seemingly published on September 28, and according to a community note, it “shows fireworks from football club CR Belouizdad celebrating their title win in 2020.” One post of the video has at least 1.1 million views. [Twitter/X, 10/8/23, 10/8/23, 10/8/23, accessed 10/9/23]
    • Users repeatedly posted on X a video of Israeli airstrikes on Gaza from May, falsely claiming it showed a retaliatory Israeli airstrike following Hamas’ October 7 attacks. Posts with the video — including by verified accounts — were viewed tens of thousands of times, and Media Matters has identified only one such post that has been labeled by X as “out of context.” [NBC News, 10/7/23; Reuters, 10/7/23; Twitter/X, 10/7/23, accessed 10/9/23, accessed 10/9/23]
    • X users shared a video that showed two jets being towed by ground transportation, claiming it showed Israeli Defense Forces evacuating air bases near Gaza or Hamas forces towing Israeli jets — but the video was actually published on YouTube last month. The video was posted from several verified accounts, including that of British politician Jim Ferguson, and the posts were viewed hundreds of thousands of times. [NBC News, 10/7/23; Reuters, 10/7/23; Twitter/X, 10/7/23, 10/7/23, 10/7/23]
    • Ferguson’s verified account also posted a 2021 video, falsely claiming it showed current Israeli air strikes against buildings in Gaza: “Breaking: Counter attacks are underway by Israeli forces as the air force hits back at #Gaza.” The post is no longer available, but according to Forbes, the video in Ferguson’s post had an Al Jazeera logo in the corner, even though the footage appeared on the BBC’s YouTube page on May 15, 2021. [Forbes, 10/7/23; YouTube, 5/15/21]
    • A video falsely claiming to show a Hamas militant firing a shoulder-mounted weapon and striking an Israeli helicopter was shared by multiple X accounts, including at least one verified account, even though the video is actually from the video game Arma 3. Media Matters identified community notes on multiple posts, but one of the posts had reportedly been viewed at least 300,000 times prior to receiving a note. It has now been viewed at least 530,000 times. Other posts with the video were viewed at least 1.2 million and 228,000 times. [Forbes, 10/7/23; Twitter/X, 10/7/23, 10/7/23, 10/7/23, 10/7/23, 10/7/23, accessed 10/9/23]
    • On October 8, verified accounts helped spread a fake document that suggested that the Biden administration authorized an $8 billion aid package to Israel. The doctored photo is an edited version of a document released by the Biden White House in July announcing additional aid to Ukraine and was featured by several online publications that fell for the misinformation. According to NBC News, posts sharing the forged document and its claims have amassed “hundreds of thousands of views” on X, with only some posts tagged as misleading through the community notes feature. [NBC News, 10/8/23]
    • A verified X account spread a baseless claim that Israel has authorized a tactical nuclear strike against the Gaza Strip. According to Forbes, “There’s no evidence that Israel has authorized a nuclear strike, tactical or otherwise, in the region.” A community note has also been added to the post, noting the absence of evidence and calling the post “click bait.” [Forbes, 10/7/23; Twitter/X, 10/7/23]
    • The verified account of right-wing personality Ian Miles Cheong posted an old video showing Israeli police and falsely claimed that “Hamas is going from house to house, butchering the people inside, including women and children taking shelter in basements.” The post has a community note but has been viewed at least 12.7 million times. [Forbes, 10/7/23]

    Ian Miles Cheong "Hamas" video

    • A verified X user posted a video falsely claiming to show concertgoers fleeing the Hamas attack on the Supernova music festival. According to Reuters, the video was filmed 3 days prior to the attack and shows “fans of U.S. singer Bruno Mars running into a Tel Aviv concert ground to see him perform.” [Twitter, 10/7/23; Reuters, 10/9/23]
    • A verified X account shared a video that falsely claims to show an Israeli general being captured by Hamas forces. The video was later accompanied by a community note explaining that it shows a Karabakh separatist leader being arrested by Azerbaijani security forces. The video was also shared by several other verified X users whose posts received hundreds of thousands of combined views. [Twitter/X, 10/8/23, 10/8/23]  
    • The verified account for right-wing social media influencer Mario Nawful posted a three-year-old video from the Syrian war claiming it was a Hamas rocket attack against Israel. After a community note was added to the video clarifying the videos origin, Nawful added “CLARIFICATION: Video is outdated, approximately 2 years old. News is accurate and on time.” The video has garnered nearly 3 million views since it was posted. [Twitter/X, 10/8/23, accessed 10/10/23
    • A verified account with over 119,000 followers posted on X that a church in Gaza had been “destroyed by Israeli bombing.” According to the BBC’s Shayan Sardarizadeh “the church denied the claims on Facebook.” A community note has been added noting this, but the tweet has garnered over 3 million views. The claim has been repeated by numerous other verified twitter accounts, some of which have garnered tens or hundreds of thousands of views. [Twitter/X, 10/9/23, 10/10/23, 10/9/23, accessed 10/10/23]  
    • The same user also posted a video which they claimed depicted “ISRAEL ATTEMPTING TO CREATE FAKE FOOTAGE OF DEATHS.” In April 2022, Reuters debunked similar claims around this clip, noting that it is actually from the set of a short film. A community note was added to the post, but it has still garnered at least 1.8 million views. The account replied to the post of the video saying that “THEIR ARE CLAIMS THIS IS FROM A MOVIE SET. Even if it is, the general propaganda is real.” Other verified accounts also shared the video and claim, but were not tagged with a community note. [Reuters, 4/27/23; Twitter/X, 10/9/23, 10/9/23, accessed 10/10/23
    • Several verified X accounts shared a video alleged to show Hamas gunmen paragliding into an Israeli music festival. According to Reuters, the video actually contained “unrelated footage of Egyptian paratroopers skydiving over the Egyptian Military Academy in Cairo.” [Reuters, 10/9/23; Twitter/X, accessed 10/10/23
    • Another post from a verified X account claimed that a TikTok showed an Israeli child who was taken hostage by Hamas. According to Reuters and the BBC’s Shayan Sardarizadeh, the video is from September and “is unrelated to the current conflict,” with Media Matters observing this information in a community note on some, but not all, of the posts that included the video. [Reuters, 10/9/23; Twitter/X, 10/10/23, accessed 10/10/23]
  • Accounts on X impersonated a news outlet and another official entity

    • One account claiming to be the Jerusalem Post but which misspells the city in its handle as “Jerusalam” spread false narratives about the ongoing conflict that were viewed hundreds of thousands of times. According to Forbes, “the account appears to be intentionally spreading misinformation during a time of confusion,” including falsely claiming that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netenyahu is ill despite a lack of evidence. While it appears X has suspended the account, the post that falsely claimed Netanyahu is ill was viewed by at least 500,000 people. [Forbes, 10/7/23, Twitter/X, accessed 10/9/23]
    • Another verified X account, which had the display name Taliban Public Relations Department, spread misinformation about the ongoing conflict, but Forbes reported that “there’s no evidence the account is actually controlled by anyone affiliated with the Taliban.” Its October 7 post, which has been viewed at least 2.5 million times, claimed that the Taliban “contacted his counterparts in #Iran, Iraq and Jordan, asking for permission for our men to cross their sovereign territory on their way to the holy land.” A spokesperson for the Taliban later denied the claims to an Indian news outlet, and the account has since changed its display name to “#FreePalestine 🇵🇸” and no longer displays a blue check mark. [Forbes, 10/7/23; Twitter/X, accessed 10/9/23]
  • Musk promoted and interacted with accounts that spread misinformation

    • On October 8, X’s owner and chairman Elon Musk “personally recommended that users follow accounts notorious for promoting lies,” The Washington Post reported. Musk, who currently has 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. [The Washington Post, 10/8/23; Twitter/X, accessed 10/9/23
    • Musk has left up other posts in response to both @WarMonitors and @sentdefender, including one thanking Musk for his amplification. After @sentdefender thanked Musk for amplifying the account, Musk responded, “You’re welcome” and also noted, “As always, please stay as close to the truth as possible, even for stuff you don’t like.” [Twitter/X, accessed 10/9/23]
    • One of the accounts, @sentdefender, has been described by a disinformation expert as an “absolutely poisonous account” with a history of “regularly posting wrong and unverifiable things.” This account also poked fun at threats made by Netanyahu urging Palestinian citizens to leave Gaza, writing that refugees “​​Better find a Boat or get to Swimming lol.” [Twitter/X, 10/8/23, 10/8/23]
    • Another account endorsed by Musk, @WarMonitors, repeatedly made antisemitic comments in the past. Musk later threatened to “withdraw” his recommendation to follow @WarMonitors for using misleading and biased language such as “martyrs” and “murdered” when writing about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. [The Washington Post, 10/8/23; Twitter, 10/8/23]
    • As of October 9, both @sentdefender and @WarMonitors, which appear as verified accounts, have over 700,000 followers — up from in the low 400,000s in August — and they allow users to subscribe to receive exclusive content for a monthly fee. In addition to offering paid subscriptions, both accounts solicit donations by linking to the fundraising platform Ko-Fi, which has been frequently used by QAnon figures. [Twitter/X, accessed 10/9/23, accessed 10/9/23, accessed 10/9/23, accessed 10/9/23; Wayback Machine, 8/8/23, 8/31/23]
    • In addition to promoting these accounts, Musk also interacted with a post that violated X’s terms of service. The post features a video showing people running and says, “God willing, the cancer of the usurper Zionist regime will be eradicated at the hands of the Palestinian people and the resistance forces throughout the region.” A note attached to the original post states, “This Post violated the X Rules. However, X has determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the Post to remain accessible.” Musk’s post interacting with the video has over 4.5 million views. [Twitter/X, 10/8/23, 10/8/23]
    • Musk said “odd” in response to a post from an account with an “official organization” verification badge that claimed, “Mainstream media has shown more war footage of Israel/Hamas in the past two days than we have seen of Ukraine in the past two years.” The post is marked with a community note explaining that the war in Ukraine has been heavily documented. [Twitter/X, 10/9/23, accessed 10/10/23]  
    • Musk said “demographics is destiny” in reply to a post from right-wing account End Wokeness that contained a video of a London protest for Palenstine and had the caption, “Ticking time bomb.” Musk’s comment seemingly echoes rhetoric used by white nationalists to discuss the so-called “great replacement” conspiracy theory, which falsely asserts that liberal parties are trying to replace white voters with a more diverse electorate. [Twitter/X, 10/10/23; Media Matters, 1/13/22, 3/1/16]