The alterations made to X (formally known as Twitter) since its acquisition by Elon Musk in 2022 have significantly contributed to rendering the social media platform less secure against disinformation, misinformation and fake news.
After assuming the role of CEO, Musk dismantled the platform's trust and safety teams, lifted bans on extremist and hazardous accounts, and, most significantly, removed Twitter's critical anti-disinformation feature, the identification of verified users and authenticated accounts with a blue check mark.
Currently, X has come under scrutiny for its handling of the Israel-Hamas conflict on the platform. Although the social media platform flagged a lot of posts spreading misinformation, it failed to take down some, reported CNBC. In light of the ongoing conflict, the Safety account on X posted, "Our escalation teams have actioned tens of thousands of posts for sharing graphic media, violent speech, and hateful conduct."
The European Union has also issued a warning to Elon Musk over the alleged disinformation about the Israel-Hamas conflict, including fake news and “repurposed old images”, on X. Failure to comply with the regulations could result in Musk being subjected to a penalty of 6% of his earnings from X, or even a complete cessation of operations within the EU.
A slew of recent updates on X has left a barrage of hate speech and disinformation on the platform unattended, flagging its deteriorating safety standards. Here's a look at these updates.
Block unverified accounts from replying to posts
The latest turn in the Musk-directed platform X, is that users can now block unverified accounts from replying to their posts. The updated reply limitation menu shows that in addition to the three existing options, people have a a new fourth option, called ‘Verified accounts.’ The existing options are – ‘Everyone,’ ‘Accounts you follow,’ and ‘Only accounts you mention.’
This means it could be harder for those who don’t pay for the X blue subscription to refute misinformation, which is on the rise. Responding to the announcement, Musk noted that the new feature ‘should help a lot with spam bots.’
Removal of link headlines from the feed
X introduced a fresh preview format for shared links, omitting headlines and subhead text to showcase only the article's header image with a publication watermark. While aimed at enhancing 'aesthetics', this alteration also strips away crucial information that users typically use to decide whether to click on third-party links.
Following the roll out, many bad actors quickly got to tweeting links to news articles and accompanying them with false headlines. Several tweets even disseminated false information about Musk, including one alleging his arrest and another asserting his endorsement of President Joe Biden for reelection.
Disbanding the election integrity team
The Tesla CEO confirmed on X that the social media platform has let go of its election integrity team. The team is responsible for fighting election fraud and disinformation.
However, just hours after Musk's confirmation, X CEO Linda Yaccarino disputed reports that X is completely gutting its election integrity team, thereby adding that the team was "robust and growing".
Disabled feature for reporting electoral misinformation
Reportedly, X has disabled a feature that let users report misinformation about elections. The feature, available in the US, Australia and South Korea since 2021, was expanded to three other countries last year - Brazil, the Philippines and Spain.
The recent development, wherein, the platform removed the "politics" category from its drop-down menu in every jurisdiction but the European Union, was pointed out by the Reset.Tech Australia, a public policy research organisation working to counter digital threats.
In a letter, Reset.Tech Australia expressed deep concern about the removal of the feature, particularly given that Australia is on the verge of conducting a referendum next month.
X: A Disinformation Breeding Ground
Twitter users are facing a growing problem of online harassment, hate and disinformation. As per the European Union Commission report, X has the highest ratio of disinformation posts among the large social media platforms. The study was carried out by TrustLab, a disinformation monitoring start-up, as part of work to support the EU's code of practice on disinformation.
X along with many other social networks, signed up to the voluntary code in 2018, but withdrew from the code while under Musk's leadership.
According to a nationally representative survey tracking online hate and harassment among US users for the 12 months ending in April 2023, the percentage of users reporting online harassment on X increased from 21 percent to 27 percent compared to the previous year.
Another report by the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a non-governmental organization with bases in Washington and London, discovered that X took no action on 99 percent of tweets reported by X Blue subscribers using the platform's own tools for flagging hateful content.
Amid the rise in online hate, Australia’s eSafety office also issued legal warning to X, saying that the platform is probably not enforcing its own rules. The commissioner, Julie Inman Grant, said that if the Musk-owned platform wanted to continue serving Australia it would need to abide by Australian laws.