Fake News About Israel And Hamas Spreading On Musk's X -- With His Help

Elon Musk
Elon Musk

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 6 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]

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]

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.

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