Elon Musk’s changes to X, formerly Twitter, staffing and code are making it difficult or impossible for users to get real-time news and updates about the Gaza conflict.
Legitimate News Buried
Twitter seems to be deliberately hiding legitimate news sources.
As I noted yesterday, reliable news sources didn’t appear in the “top” results for Gaza searches on X. I found mostly propaganda accounts posting biased content of questionable authenticity. The X algorithm favors this content, perhaps driven by likes and shares by bots or real accounts sympathetic to the cause of the poster.
Similar searches on X competitor Threads showed posts from news organizations and individual posters with content that looked less propaganda-like.
At a time when people want good information, X seems to promote extreme, unverifiable content.
Headlines No More
X has always shown the headline of a linked news article. They recently changed their post display to show only an image from the linked article, making it almost impossible to distinguish a news story from a mere image. The domain is shown as a small watermark over the story’s image.
Musk himself takes credit for removing news headlines:
Are news stories sans headlines really more aesthetically pleasing to users? Do users care about aesthetics? Would banning memes, GIFs, and blue paragraphs of hashtag links be more effective in beautifying X?
It seems likely that Musk’s move is more about his antipathy toward mainstream news organizations and a desire to keep people scrolling on X.
Headline Hack Restores Old Appearance
There’s a way to get your headlines back, courtesy of a browser extension named Control Panel for Twitter. There are a plethora of settings, and one of them restores headlines.
There’s no guarantee this fix will last forever. If Musk changes the underlying code on X, the extension won’t be able to retrieve the headline. For the moment, though, it works on many major desktop and mobile browsers.
The bigger issue is that only the tiniest fraction of X users will install this fix. The vast majority will continue to see headline-free, non-obvious article links. Musk will achieve his objective of reducing the number of users who click away from X to read an article.
Moderation in Extreme Moderation
It’s predictable that when a conflict breaks out or a political crisis occurs, supporters of various factions will flood social media with biased or outright false information. These events are times for “all hands on deck” moderation – fake content must be removed quickly and the accounts posting this content shut down. The longer false news remains on the site, the more likely it is to be shared by legitimate accounts and take on a life of its own.
The problem at X is there aren’t many hands to bring on deck. Last November, Musk fired 4400 of 5500 contract moderators. Two months later, he made more cuts. Musk has shown no inclination to devote resources to content moderation. As recently as last month he fired half his “election integrity” team, a group formed to fight misinformation during political campaigns.
Scott Nover at Slate says the changes have rendered X almost useless for Israel and Gaza news. He describes incidents like an account posting a video of a supposed Hamas rocket attack that was actually footage from a video game. The account remains active and retains its blue “verified” check.
Moderating actions aren’t occurring in real time on X. They are delayed or not happening at all.
What’s Next for X?
An absence of moderation and abundance of misinformation may not be a tenable situation for X. The EU has expressed concerns about false content and can impose fines if misinformation is not removed. X CEO Linda Yaccarino said the firm has removed some content as requested by EU regulators. She also requested the regulators “provide more detail” about alleged illegal content.
EU regulators aren’t going to assume the role of de facto content moderators for X. Rather, they will demand a proactive moderation approach that removes problematic content without official notice.
The next few days will be critical as Musk and Yaccarino reveal a moderation strategy that keeps the firm in compliance with EU regulations.