Two different reports have come to a similar conclusion. Namely that X, formerly known as Twitter, is extremely bad at countering state-sponsored propaganda following changes initiated by Elon Musk.
The first report – a review by NewsGuard, an anti-misinformation outfit – found that engagement “soared” by 70% for Russian, Chinese, and Iranian disinformation sources after Musk, who bought the app in 2022, removed labels from state-run propaganda accounts.
Until April 2023, X users were notified that, for example, China Daily or RT are state-run outlets that lack editorial independence by a label “state-affiliated.”
However, that month, Musk stripped the platform of such labels. According to NewsGuard, “this cleared the path for Chinese propaganda sources, as well as Russian and Iranian state outlets, to disseminate disinformation unchecked with X users no longer having transparent information about the nature of the source.”
The impact has been immediate. In the 90 days following the change, engagement – the number of likes and shares – on posts from Russian, Chinese, and Iranian state media English-language accounts shot up 70% compared with the previous 90-day period, according to a NewsGuard analysis using data from media–monitoring platform Meltwater.
Russia’s RT gained the most after users no longer had access to the information that the outlet was operated by the Russian government – it nearly doubled its engagement, to 2.5M likes and reposts from 1.3M, NewsGuard said.
“The findings demonstrate how foreign actors are now able to reach a larger – and potentially more susceptible – audience as users engage with the accounts, possibly unaware that these sources essentially exist to spread propaganda,” said the researchers.
Another reason these accounts may be experiencing an increase in engagement is that users no longer have to actively seek out content from state-run media outlets, as X’s algorithm now regularly promotes it to users.
On Thursday, the European Union also advised Musk to take better care in fighting disinformation and comply with new laws on fake news and propaganda. This kind of content is now deemed illegal across the EU under the Digital Services Act, which came into force in August.
In a fresh report, X was found to have the highest ratio of disinformation posts of all large social media platforms.
Facebook and other tech giants, including Google, TikTok, and Microsoft, have signed up to the code of practice the EU drew up to ensure they could get ready in time to operate within the confines of the new laws. But Musk’s X hasn’t.
Nevertheless, the platform is obliged under the new law to comply with the rules – or face a ban across the bloc, said Vera Jourova, the European commissioner who is responsible for the implementation of the new anti-disinformation code.
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