November 2023

Media Buyers on Alert as Misinformation About Israel-Hamas Worsens on X | The Drum, November 2023

Media buyers on alert as misinformation about Israel-Hamas worsens on X

By Kendra Barnett | Senior Reporter

New data indicates that misinformation about the war is spreading like wildfire on the Elon Musk-owned platform. The company denies the claims, but media buyers remain wary of the brand safety risks of advertising on X.

X app on mobile phone display

X, in addition to other social platforms, is suffering an influx of hateful content and misinformation amid the Israel-Hamas war / Adobe Stock

Misinformation about the Israel-Hamas war is proliferating on social media.

Research published today by the nonprofit organization the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) indicates that X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, is failing to crack down on misinformation and adhere to its own content moderation policies and rules concerning hate speech.

The organization found that, of a sample of 200 rule-violating posts on X about the conflict, 98% remained live a week after being reported. The posts that remain live have garnered over 24m views, and out of the 101 accounts in the study, just one was suspended and two others locked.’ The CCDH also found that 43 of the 101 sampled accounts are verified, which guarantees that their posts will be algorithmically boosted on the platform.

In response to the report, X today published a lengthy blog post detailing the actions it’s taken to combat the spread of misinformation amid the worsening conflict in Gaza. The company claims it has actioned” more than 325,000 pieces of content that violate the platform’s terms of service. Actioning” may include account suspension or removing or restricting the reach of a post. X claims it’s removed some 3,000 accounts, including some associated with Hamas. It’s suspended an additional 375,000 accounts as part of its efforts to crack down on synthetic, manipulated and misleading content. The company went on to explain that it is also working to automate content moderation of antisemitic content and provide content moderation staffers with a refresher course on antisemitism.” A handful of other updates were shared.

Today we shared an update on our comprehensive efforts to safeguard X for all users and partners in response to the Israel-Hamas conflict,” an executive at X tells The Drum in a statement. We’ll continue to engage with communities, governments, nonprofits, customers and others who have constructive feedback and ideas to strengthen our approach.”

The X executive who spoke with The Drum acknowledges that the blog post was published in response to the CCDH’s research, saying, Yesterday we were made aware that the CCDH planned to issue a report evaluating a sample of 200 posts. As you can read … X has taken action on hundreds of thousands of posts in the first month following the terrorist attack on Israel.”

The executive also suggests that the CCDH’s definition for actioning” a post is much more narrow than X’s and may not include actions like restricting the reach of a post. By choosing to only measure account suspensions, the CCDH will not represent our work accurately.”

The details shared in X’s update today have not been verified by independent research.

Concerns about content moderation on X have grown in the year since billionaire Tesla executive Elon Musk acquired the platform and promptly slashed about half of the company’s workforce, including most of the content moderation team.

And the impact has been widely reported: in December of last year, the New York Times detailed the rise of hate speech on the platform, citing research by the CCDH as well as organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League. It found that slurs against Black Americans more than doubled and antisemitic posts referring to Jews or Judaism spiked by 61% following Musk’s takeover.

Beyond the problem of hateful content, the issue of misleading information has been similarly detailed. The research published today by the CCDH has been underscored by similar findings from other organizations. Last month, NewsGuard – which tracks misinformation and the reliability of various media outlets – released a report that analyzed content on social media during the week following Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel. It found that verified accounts on X accounted for 74% of all unverified claims related to the conflict during that week – and that these posts were viewed 100m times globally.

In short, research from various organizations indicates that the platform’s pay-to-play verification model is exacerbating the spread of misinformation.

X, however, has largely pushed back on the notion that the dissemination of hateful content has accelerated; it has said that impressions of hate speech content are, on average, 30% lower than they were pre-acquisition.

It’s also worth noting that NewsGuard found that unverified claims about the Israel-Hamas conflict have spiked across other social platforms, including Facebook and TikTok.

While it is challenging to quantify the full scope of misinformation specifically pertaining to the Israel-Hamas conflict across all social media platforms, we know that it is a significant concern,” says Andrew Serby, chief commercial officer at brand safety and suitability platform Zefr. Zefr, like NewsGuard, has also seen an increase in the volume of war-related misinformation after the conflict broke out,” according to Serby.

In any case, X’s relatively lax content moderation policies (the X executive who spoke with The Drum says “[We] only suspend accounts for serious violations of our rules”) have put users and advertisers on edge.

Advertisers – who, despite new paid subscription plans on the platform, still generate most of X’s revenue – are especially wary. Brands like Coca-Cola, Ford, General Motors and Unilever – which were once among the platform’s top spenders – pulled spend in the months following Musk’s acquisition. And although some brands have since returned (in September, the company’s CEO, Linda Yaccarino claimed that 90% of X’s top advertisers had returned in the previous 12 weeks), spend rates remain critically low. The company’s US ad revenue has dropped at least 55% year-over-year every month since Musk’s acquisition, according to an October report from Reuters.

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