Verified Accounts, 'Community Notes' Perpetuate Misinformation On X, Study Finds

Since buying Twitter and rebranding it as X, Elon Musk has changed the social-media platform’s existing user-verification system, giving new meaning to the historic blue check mark, while also uprooting the app's previous content-moderation processes.

A new investigative study by ProPublica and Columbia University's Tow Center of Digital Journalism shows the new verification system is proliferating misinformation on the site, and Musk's suggested “Community Notes” feature is failing to scale sufficiently.

“The blue check is flipped now,” said Michael Zimmer, the director of the Center for Data, Ethics, and Society at Marquette University in Wisconsin, who has studied how social-media platforms combat misinformation. “

Instead of a sign of authenticity, it is a sign of suspicion -- at least for those of us who study this enough.”

After looking at over 2,000 tweets by verified accounts posting debunked images and videos in the first month of the Israel-Hamas war, ProPublica and the Tow Center found that the posts pushed over 200 false claims and were published by over 1,300 verified accounts, receiving half a billion impressions.

The investigation found that repopulated debunked images and videos can generate a mass following on X, with dozens of verified blue check accounts reposting debunked tweets two or more times and gaining over 100,000 followers each in the first month of the war.

“The false posts appear to violate X's synthetic and manipulated media policy, which bars all users from sharing media that may deceive or confuse people,” the report reads. “Many accounts also appear to breach the eligibility criteria for verification, which state that verified accounts must not be ‘misleading or deceptive’ or engage in ‘platform manipulation and spam.’”

According to the findings, several of the fastest-growing accounts posting multiple false claims about the conflict between Israel and Hamas now have more followers than some regional news organizations covering it.

In addition to the new verification system's apparent lack of legitimacy, ProPublica and the Tow Center found that the “Community Notes” system -- Musk's crowdsourced content-moderation feature -- has not done enough to combat the spread of misinformation on the platform or fill the massive gap left by content moderators fired after Musk's takeover last year.

“About 80% of the 2,000 debunked posts we reviewed had no Community Note,” the report reads. “Of the 200 debunked claims, more than 80 were never clarified with a note.”

Yet Musk continues to move forward with Community Notes, as it aligns with the billionaire's proposed strategy of pushing “free speech” on X by doing away with independent fact checks and instead allowing users to call the shots on what is factually true or not.

On October 24, X announced that Community Notes would begin to appear faster (seen 1.5 to 3.5 hours more quickly than the previous month, according to X) and more often on viral and high-visibility content.

But the joint-investigation conducted here found that less than a third of debunked tweets created since the end of October received a Community Note.

X’s suggested lack of content moderation, risk management and deceptive design of its “so-called Blue checks,” caused the EU to open a formal investigation against X earlier this week.

More regulators are likely to question Musk’s treatment of X, especially on the heels of various upcoming global elections during which misinformation is likely to increase heavily.

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