Science & Tech

EU warns Elon Musk that X is spreading ‘illegal content and disinformation’ over Israel-Hamas war

EU warns Elon Musk that X is spreading ‘illegal content and disinformation’ over Israel-Hamas war

Related video: Death toll rises as war between Israel and Hamas continues

Scripps News / VideoElephant

As Twitter (now X) owner Elon Musk’s policies for the platform continue to attract controversy - not least in relation to the Israel-Hamas conflict - the businessman has now been issued with a warning from the European Union (EU) that there are “indications” the social media site is “being used to disseminate illegal content and disinformation” in EU member states.

Hamas, the Palestinian militant group designated a terrorist organisation by both the UK Government and EU, crossed the border and attacked Israel on Saturday, with at least 900 people reported to have been killed in the Middle Eastern country.

The Israeli government, headed up by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, formally declared war in response, with his country launching a military bombardment on the Gaza Strip.

While the war rages on, Musk’s X has been flooded with fake news and misinformation about the conflict, from false reports of Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu being hospitalised, to a viral video claiming to show Israeli generals captured by a Hamas fighter which is actually of the detention of separatists in Azerbaijan.

The Israeli analysis firm Cyabra says one in five social media accounts partaking in discussions about the Hamas attacks and their aftermath are fake, with The Guardian reporting the company found approximately 30,000 fake accounts spreading pro-Hamas disinformation online.

Emerson Brooking, of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, told CNN: “In times of war, social media becomes a propaganda battlefield; there is always an element of disinformation and exaggeration.

“Today, X is the main platform where this online battle plays out.”

Not to mention that users can pay to receive a ‘verified’ blue tick – something which was previously only reserved for high profile figures prone to impersonation such as celebrities and journalists.

In a letter to Musk published on Tuesday, European Commissioner Thierry Breton wrote: “Following the terrorist attacks carried out by Hamas against Israel, we have indications that your platform is being used to disseminate illegal content and disinformation in the EU.

“Let me remind you that the Digital Services Act sets very precise obligations regarding content moderation.

“First, you need to be very transparent and clear on what content is permitted under your terms and consistently and diligently enforce your own policies.

“Second, when you receive notices of illegal content in the EU, you must be timely, diligent and objective in taking action and removing the relevant content when warranted. We have, from qualified sources, reports about potentially illegal content circulating on your service despite flags from relevant authorities.

“Third, you need to have in place proportionate and effective mitigation measures to tackle the risks to public security and civic discourse stemming from disinformation. Public media and civil society organisations widely report instances of fake and manipulated images and facts circulating on your platform in the EU, such as repurposed old images or unrelated armed conflicts or military footage that actually originated from video games.”

Breton went on to request a response to the letter within 24 hours, which Musk issued on X.

He wrote: “Our policy is that everything is open source and transparent, an approach that I know the EU supports.

“Please list the violations you allude to on X, so that that [sic] the public can see them. Merci beaucoup.”

Breton replied: “You are well aware of your users’ – and authorities’ – reports on fake content and glorification of violence. Up to you to demonstrate that you walk the talk.

“My team remains at your disposal to ensure DSA compliance, which the EU will continue to enforce rigorously.”

The EU’s Digital Services Act first came into force on 25 August, and includes measures to “counter illegal content online” and “obligations for platforms to react quickly, while respecting fundamental rights”.

As well as Musk’s personal response to Breton, X’s Safety account shared an update on Tuesday in which it revealed more than 50 million posts had been shared worldwide about Hamas’ attacks on Israel.

It reads: “As the events continue to unfold rapidly, a cross-company leadership group has assessed the moment as a crisis requiring the highest level of response. This means we’re laser focused and dedicated to protecting the conversation on X and enforcing our rules as we continue to assess the situation on the platform.

“Over the weekend, we updated our Public Interest Policy. We know that it’s sometimes incredibly difficult to see certain content, especially in moments like the one unfolding.

“In these situations, X believes that, while difficult, it’s in the public’s interest to understand what’s happening in real time. People on X can also control what media they see.

“We’ve also taken action under our Violent and Hateful Entities Policy to remove newly created Hamas-affiliated accounts and we’re currently co-ordinating with industry peers through [the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism] to try and prevent terrorist content from being distributed online.”

It goes on to state that “tens of thousands of posts” on the platform have been actioned for sharing graphic media or violent speech, and hateful conduct; and that new accounts are being enrolled in its Community Notes feature to “combat potential misinformation”.

The statement concludes by saying they will continue to update users “in the coming days”.

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