Following Hamas’ recent deadly attacks on Israel, along with the Israeli military’s response, a concerted effort emerged among journalists, researchers, open-source intelligence (OSINT) experts, and fact-checkers to swiftly verify the plethora of raw video footage and images circulating online from individuals on the ground.
However, those using X (formerly Twitter) to seek information regarding the conflict encountered a tidal wave of disinformation.
While virtually all major world events now witness the rapid dissemination of disinformation in an attempt to manipulate the narrative, the scale and speed at which disinformation inundated discussions about the Israel-Hamas conflict, especially on X, were unparalleled.
Justin Peden, an OSINT researcher said:
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 reported on the escalation in Gaza in 2021, his feed primarily featured content from individuals on the ground or reputable news agencies. However, this past weekend, he noted that finding verified content or authentic primary sources on X became an exceptionally challenging task.
Compounded by the platform’s algorithm that prioritizes users willing to pay $8 a month for a premium subscription, posts from individuals sporting a blue checkmark rapidly ascended to the forefront of news feeds for those seeking information about the conflict.
Instead of encountering accurate, fact-checked information, X users were confronted with misleading content, such as video game footage deceitfully presented as real footage of a Hamas attack and images depicting firework celebrations in Algeria falsely portrayed as Israeli strikes on Hamas.
There were also fabricated images of soccer superstar Ronaldo holding the Palestinian flag, alongside the repurposing of a three-year-old video from the Syrian civil war to make it appear as if it were captured during the recent events.
These images and videos gained hundreds of thousands of views and engagements. Although some of this content later included a disclaimer from X’s broken community fact-checking system, a significant portion remained unaddressed.
Just as he has done in the past, Twitter CEO Elon Musk made matters even worse by recommending a source that is known for spreading misinformation.
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
Musk removed his recommendation shortly after posting it, but not before it had been viewed by over 11 million people.