Verified users with Blue badges are the ones spreading the vast majority of misinformation about the Israel-Hamas war on X (formerly Twitter), a new study has claimed.
During the first week of the conflict (October 7-14), US-based for-profit organisation NewsGuard analysed the 250 most-engaged posts (likes, reposts, replies, and bookmarks) that promoted one of 10 prominent false or unsubstantiated narratives relating to the war.
The results revealed that 186 out of these 250 posts -- 74 per cent -- were posted by accounts verified by X.
“Nearly three-fourths of the most viral posts on X advancing misinformation about the Israel-Hamas war are being pushed by ‘verified' X accounts,” according to the analysis.
Collectively, posts advancing these myths received 1,349,979 engagements and were cumulatively viewed by more than 100 million times globally in just one week.
When faced with criticism that his sweeping changes have led to increased misinformation on the platform, Musk often touts his expansion of X’s crowdsourced fact-checking feature, called "Community Notes".
However, NewsGuard found that just 79 of the 250 posts advancing misinformation about the war were flagged by the platform with a Community Note.
“That means that a note appeared approximately 32 per cent of the time on some of the platform’s most prominent and harmful misinformation posts,” the report mentioned.
The researchers also identified false or unsubstantiated narratives relating to the war spreading widely on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Telegram, and elsewhere.
However, NewsGuard chose to focus on X because it appears to be the only platform that has been public about the reduction in its moderation efforts.
It also found that most of the false narratives relating to the Israel-Hamas war so far appear to go viral on X before they spread to other platforms such as TikTok and Instagram.
In response to NewsGuard’s emailed questions about the findings and the platform’s vetting of X Premium accounts, X’s press team sent an automated response: “Busy now, please check back later.”
Of the highest-engaged posts promoting the most-widely shared myth that the report identified -- that Ukraine sold weapons to Hamas -- 24 of the 25 posts came from X Premium accounts.
And 23 of the 25 accounts advancing the second most-engaged myth - that CNN faked an on-screen attack of a CNN crew - were posted by accounts with X’s blue checkmark.
“NewsGuard identified seven accounts that have spread at least two of the most widely shared myths relating to the war. All were verified by X,” it added.
Prior to Musk’s acquisition of X (then Twitter), users were verified based on “authenticity, notability and activity” - in what is now referred to as “Legacy” verification by the platform.
Now, a user need not be “notable” to receive the certifying “blue check.”
To become verified on X, a user simply pays an $8 fee, verifies a phone number, and adds a profile picture (X does not specify that the photo needs to be of the account holder or of a real person).
X does not disclose any information about how, or whether, it vets requests for blue checks. And it does not require that a real name be posted on the account.