Defend Truth


The X we choose to bear as fake Hamas-Israel news explodes across Twitter 


Shapshak is editor-in-chief of and executive director of Scrolla.Africa

As disinformation soars, Musk’s firing of the content moderation teams has come back to haunt the social network, formerly known as a thriving online community.

After posting a video on X/Twitter supposedly showing armed Hamas fighters going to the homes of Israelis, Ian Miles Cheong wrote: “imagine if this was happening in your neighbourhood, to your family”.

Except the video clearly showed Israeli police, according to a community note on the post.

But the video posted by Cheong, a right-wing commentator, was viewed, liked and shared on Twitter (the social network formerly known to have decent content moderation) over 50 million times. It is still up (I won’t link to any war-related disinformation posts).

Read more in Daily Maverick: Israel and Palestinian war: What you need to know right now

Another post — from an anonymous premium account — claimed that “the US is sending $8-billion worth of military aid to Israel” and attached a Photoshopped statement from the White House as proof.

Except the White House never issued any such statement. The post obviously went viral amongst right-wing conspiracy theorists — who often seem to have an antisemitic prejudice to boot.

The Hamas invasion of Israel has been a test for Twitter’s handling of misinformation since Elon Musk bought it for $44-billion last October; when he fired most of its staff, including the content moderation teams.

The world is paying the price for this short-sightedness with Twitter’s inability to handle the masses of disinformation flooding it this week.

One video circulating of supposed fighting was actually footage from a video game.

“It’s now almost impossible to tell what’s a fact, what’s a rumour, what’s a conspiracy theory, and what’s trolling,” conspiracy theory researcher Mike Rothschild told Bloomberg. “Musk’s changes haven’t just made X useless during a time of crisis. They’ve made it actively worse.”

Ghoulish voyeurism

Modern-day wars, as we have seen in the last decade and especially in Ukraine, are increasingly being watched by millions on social media. The Russian invasion of Ukraine (see Naledi Pandor, it’s not that hard to say) was a coming-of-age moment for TikTok — where footage of Russian missile attacks captivated millions of viewers.

Videos and images of this weekend’s horrific Hamas attacks have been all over Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. People accustomed to cat videos and cutesy family images are just as fixated with images of horror. Just as we were when Ukraine was invaded.

The colourful early morning pierced with rockets flying, leaving their contrails behind them, are terrifying images I have seen everywhere — as much as the interceptor missiles from Israel’s Iron Dome trying to stop them. The regular bang of those interceptors has become a mortifying soundtrack to the relentless rocket strikes on Saturday and Sunday.

Gaza strip rocket, social media disinformation

A rocket is launched from the coastal Gaza strip towards Israel by militants of the Ezz Al-Din Al Qassam militia, the military wing of Hamas movement, in Gaza City on 7 October 2023. Rocket barrages were launched from the Gaza Strip in a surprise attack claimed by the Islamist movement Hamas. In a televised statement, the Israeli prime minister said the country is at war. (Photo: EPA-EFE/Mohammed Saber)

Mandy Wiener, the 702 radio host, highlighted these loud bangs as she sheltered in a stairwell in Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv in a surreal description of finding yourself in a warzone on a family holiday. She was visiting family in Israel and was flying out on Saturday night when the sirens sent everyone in the airport down to the bomb shelter. 

Despite the rockets flying and that staccato soundtrack planes were still landing and taking off — giving you a sense of some weird normality of the relentless Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

Social media is where we are now watching terrifying events being live-streaming in real-time. Over 50-million posts were made in the first few days, Twitter said. While it said, “a cross-company leadership group has assessed this moment as a crisis requiring the highest level of response” it also washed its hands by adding: “X believes that, while difficult, it’s in the public’s interest to understand what’s happening in real-time”. 

Basically, you’re on your own to make sense of what is real, video game footage or the usual old images and footage being recycled for whatever new conflict has occurred.

“We keep telling people that it’s their job to wade through an ever-growing wave of misinformation that is increasingly indistinguishable from reality,” Centre for Countering Digital Hate CEO Imran Ahmed told Bloomberg. His group is currently being sued by Musk.

As truly awful as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is, Twitter’s washing its hands of responsibility is unforgivable — as is the South African government’s. 

The EU’s stringent new digital legislation isn’t. It has already warned Musk over fake images related to Hamas — and can fine X as much as 6% of its global revenue or ban it from the EU altogether.

The EU’s response is likely to be the only meaningful consequence for Twitter’s disinformation free-for-all — but long after many millions more fake posts will be spread disinformation and hate speech. DM


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  • Chrisdickens7979 says:

    Clearly not a Musk fan! A recent authoritative report (sorry I don’t have the reference to hand) demonstrated that present misinformation content on X is now a fraction of what it was on the old Twitter. What the EU wants is industrial censorship – as a citizen – I say NO!

  • virginia crawford says:

    The fact that what is said on Twitter now X is reported as if it is news gas created this monster. Ignore it and maybe it will go away! Politicians, celebrities, royals and other nonentities’ utterances are of no interest to those that don’t subscribe, so don’t tell us.

  • Agf Agf says:

    All these “content moderators” who Musk fired and Shapshak so bemoans the loss of, were no more than left wing woke puppets who were taking their orders from faceless government officials and FBI bureaucrats. Deplatforming anyone who they didn’t approve of (eg. Robert Kennedy Jnr). This was all revealed once Musk took over. Good on Musk for cleaning out the Augean stables.

  • Jeri-Lee Mowers says:

    The first 3 comments on your opinion piece are so thoroughly demonstrating your point, Toby. Anyone still relying on social media and/or billionaires for their information requires, well, too many interventions to list here.

  • Gareth Mann says:

    This article seems to ignore the fact that Twitter wasn’t exactly a bastion of undisputable truth under it’s previous management. Similar thing happened with the ‘Ghost of Kyiv’ – the Ukrainian fighter pilot who supposedly shot down six Russian planes in the early days of the Ukraine invasion. It was subsequently revealed to be a complete fabrication (also using video game footage) but was all over pre-Musk Twitter, despite the content moderation teams being very much intact at the time.

  • Louise Louise says:

    So what is new about people talking about things that are not actually true? Since before the dawn of pens, printed material, radio, TV, computers, social media etc people have discussed matters in the home, in pubs, on the radio, in churches, in the town square etc. People get things wrong all the time. People have always lied and been deceptive about various things, perhaps not intentionally most of the time.

    When it comes to war, the first casualty is truth. This is a well-understood phenomenon and we all know that propaganda is a much-used tool in the warring factions’ arsenal.

    Various corporate media entities circulate untruths. It is also a well-understood phenomenon by most intelligent people. Governments lie and deceive all the time. For most ministers, if they ever told the truth it would be a spelling mistake.

    So why do people get hot under the collar with regard to circulating the wrong information on social media? “Something must be done!!” we hear! “Ban ‘disinformation’ they cry!”, “censor those right-wingers!!” (but never the left-wingers!!).

    The inference is that too many people are too stupid to discern what is truth and what is not. Well, that’s how it has been since the dawn of man. Get over it.

    The solution? Teach children to think for themselves and to “trust but verify”. Encourage people to question sources and information and to engage in civil debate. Oh, and zero censorship of differing opinions!

    • Steve Davidson says:

      But then Louise you get disgraceful right-wing attacks on the US Congress by mindless people with very limited brain power. Including their ex-president who seems to have gone senile in double quick time!

      • jacob.combrink says:

        The price we pay for freedom of speech is the noise we must endure from fools.
        Silencing these fools will not removing them from the outcome of a discussion, it only renders you ignorant to their views.

        What we really need is more robust discussion, people must be called out, their false statements must be dissected, disproved and publicized.

        We really need more conversation and empathy.

    • Hermann Funk says:

      It is high time that there is a general uprising against social media. The control they have and the disguised lies they spread make it nearly impossible to discern what is really gong on. The Big Brother that has been spoken about years ago has manifested in the form of Google, X, Tik-Tok and other media. Just have a look at China where this is being used to brainwash millions.

      • virginia crawford says:

        No uprising required: it should be ignored and self-respecting journalist should report who said what on social media as news. It isn’t.

  • Aadila M says:

    Hi. Can we talk about intentional misinformation spread by Western leaders and their media? It’s one thing for fake news to go viral on Twitter, but another thing for the US PRESIDENT to make claims that are found to be baseless (no, Hamas did NOT behead babies).

    Surely, for the president, there should be a “content moderation” system in place? Or perhaps, in this case, “alternative facts” are acceptable, as long as they fit in with the distorted narrative that’s being pushed?

    Indeed, we live in a post truth world.

    • Steve Davidson says:

      Biden’s (and America’s) problem is the power of the monied Zionists who just have to mention the word ‘holocaust’ and they collapse into a shivering wreck! (And of course the 5 million non-Jews in the camps never get mentioned.)

  • Kanu Sukha says:

    Irrespective of what your ‘take’ on an issue or person is, it seems many people regard Musk, like Trump to be beyond reproach ? I think some people have given it description of ‘cult’ … with all its ramifications .

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