As misinfo circulates on X amid the Israel-Hamas war, reporters look to other platforms

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In the wake of increasing misinformation related to the Israel-Hamas war now circulating on X, the app formerly known as Twitter, a number of journalists are building up their networks on rival platforms. The shift, though potentially small in terms of raw user numbers, could have an outsized impact on X, where power users create the majority of posts. And if anything, journalists have been longtime power users of Twitter — marketing their scoops, commenting on news, and recirculating headlines — the latter a feature X owner Elon Musk ditched just days ago. The move frustrated publishers, some of whom are now considering reducing their social media involvement with X, Digiday reported. 

As active users, journalists play an important role in keeping content flowing on X and engage in conversations around timely events. If they were to leave for other networks, X could begin to feel quite different. For starters, it could experience a loss of content, as the platform relies heavily on power users.

According to Pew Research studies from 2019, 10% of U.S. adults were responsible for 80% of tweets on Twitter, and 6% accounted for 73% of political tweets. Despite not being as large a platform as its social media competitors, like Facebook and Instagram, Twitter was known as a breaking news network. In 2021, Pew found that even though only 25% of U.S. adults used the app, 59% said they used it to get news — a bigger percentage than on Facebook (54%).

Twitter, in its heyday, understood its place as part of the news ecosystem, even relisting itself in the “News” category on the App Store back in 2016, instead of “Social Networking.” The move not only gave it better visibility in the app rankings, but it was a more accurate description of what Twitter was used for — not networking, but information sharing.

Though Musk has often shown antipathy to the media — banning journalists at times and meddling with news organizations’ accounts, by labeling them as “state-affiliated” and “government-funded” — news journalists themselves have been hesitant to leave the platform. Despite Musk’s attempts to make things worse for them, X remained the largest of the microblogging networks and a continual source of realtime news.

But that may change as X faces its first significant worldwide news event under new CEO Linda Yaccarino. After cutting its trust and safety staff, the platform is struggling to keep up with the misinformation and disinformation circulating related to the Israel-Hamas war. European regulators warned the company that those failures could results in fines worth 6% of its annual revenue. At the same time, Elon Musk is promoting accounts associated with sharing conspiracies, Wired reports, undermining the platform’s efforts at curbing such disinformation.

Plus, a new feature allows users to limit replies to only X Premium subscribers — a potential means of publishing misinfo without being subject to pushback from commenters — unless the post gets flagged by Community Notes reviewers. These unpaid (and likely now overworked), Community Notes reviewers are X’s crowd-sourced fact-checkers. They rely on a system that aims to build consensus across differing groups before their Notes go live.

But those reviews have taken too long to publish in recent days as posts related to the war increased. Remarked one Community Notes writer, Kim Lowry Picazio, over on Instagram Threads, “All weekend we were furiously vetting, writing, and approving Community Notes on hundreds of posts which were demonstrably fake news. It took 2+ days for the backroom to press whatever button to finally make all our warnings publicly viewable,” she said.

X CEO Yaccarino seemingly admitted to this problem, posting on Monday that Notes would now appear “more quickly” on X. The Community Notes team said it’s also working on further speed gains beyond those rolled out last week.

Community Notes now appear more quickly on X. They’re a vital tool for adding context and combating potential misinformation. Become part of this important community. https://t.co/VJIUCQe1ks

— Linda Yaccarino (@lindayaX) October 9, 2023

In the meantime, journalists are setting up shop on new networks, hedging their bets against X’s potential to be a useful platform during a fast-moving news event. Over the weekend, a post on Threads from CNN’s Reliable Sources went viral, asking journalists on Threads to self-identify by tagging themselves so others could find them. The post blew up with 1,919 replies and over 5,000 likes — smaller numbers for X, perhaps, but big for Threads.

Even if reporters do leave X for other platforms, it won’t likely immediately be reflected in these app’s usage numbers. In fact, X reports it’s actually seeing an increase in daily active users in the conflict area. It also saw more than 50 million posts globally focusing on the terrorist attack on Israel, it said, extolling its role as the center of the global conversation around these tragic events. However, its Community Notes account said that only 500+ unique notes relating to the attacks and events are being shown on X.

In the past couple of days, we’ve seen an increase in daily active users on @X in the conflict area, plus there have been more than 50 million posts globally focusing on the weekend’s terrorist attack on Israel by Hamas.

As the events continue to unfold rapidly, a cross-company…

— Safety (@Safety) October 10, 2023

But in reality, the loss of reporters posting to X could turn the platform into a breeding ground for misinformation and could potentially give competitive platforms an advantage to capture more mainstream attention as they attract the attention of bigger names in media. Platformer suggested the moment could provide Instagram Threads with an opportunity if it moved quickly to clone Twitter-like features like hashtags and Trending Topics.

But Threads has seemed hesitant to embrace news, even blocking searches for keywords like “covid,” and “long covid,” The Washington Post reported in September. According to The Information, Threads’ team has internally debated how much it wants to involve itself in news, given the potential problems doing so creates.

That only leaves the decentralized platform Mastodon, the invite-only Bluesky, and smaller competitors like Spill or Pebble as other possible destinations for news. None seem as promising as Threads, which at least has years of moderation experience thanks to numerous Facebook crises. (Mastodon’s moderation relies on individual server operators and admins, so it may be able to keep up on those it runs itself, but not on smaller instances.)

In the meantime, reporters’ shifting alliances aren’t playing out in terms of the usage numbers for X or its rivals, app store data indicates. Market intelligence firm Apptopia says there have been “no significant movements” in the daily active usage numbers of X, Bluesky, Mastodon, or Threads as of yet.

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