In what is likely a surprise to very few, X, formerly Twitter, has been shown to be the biggest source of fake news, propaganda, and disinformation.
Following a study of six online platforms across Poland, Slovakia, and Spain, the European Commission called for X owner Elon Musk to make a greater effort in tackling the disinformation.
This comes a little over a year since Musk purchased the platform and led it to its current questionable state.
The Battle to Stop “Half-Truths” is On
The European Union’s (EU) executive arm, the European Commission, enlisted a disinformation monitoring start-up called TrustLab to conduct the analysis. Titled ‘Code of Practice on Disinformation’, the study compared over 6,000 unique social media posts to examine the prevalence and sources of disinformation.
The prompt for the study, and rationale behind choosing those specific regions to analyse, comes down to the area’s proximity to the Ukraine war and upcoming parliamentary elections in both Poland and Slovakia.
Last month, the EU accused social media companies of failing to stop Russian propaganda and disinformation campaigns, with the “reach and influence of Kremlin-backed accounts” growing in 2023.
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The EU's Values and Transparency Commissioner Vera Jourova warned: “The Russian state has engaged in the war of ideas to pollute our information space with half-truth and lies to create a false image that democracy is no better than autocracy.”
The analysis also looked at content from across Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, and LinkedIn. However, X was seen to be the worst offender, with the largest “ratio of discoverability” of disinformation. Interestingly, YouTube had the lowest.
The study was backed up by another report published this week by Climate Action Against Disinformation. It showed that X was the worst of all major social platforms in tackling “climate misinformation and greenwashing.”
How Did X Get Here?
What’s particularly alarming is how quick and easily it is for accounts spreading fake news to find an audience. Pair this with the fact that platforms seem to be turning a blind eye to the spread of disinformation and it’s an all-round recipe for disaster.
So how exactly did X end up in this state? From the reinstatement of banned accounts from controversial figures to charging for verification, there have been lots of factors contributing to the current adverse energy of the platform.
However, it’s clear that the mass firing of the team who advised the platform on child abuse, self-harm, and hate speech has paved the way for this rise in controversial content. Similarly, cutting free API access to the platform was said to “harm the study of disinformation” according to the EU’s High Representative Josep Borrel.
Following the study, Jourova made her expectations clear: “I expect the platforms to do more efforts with better results. Russian propaganda and disinformation is still very present on online platforms. This is not business as usual; the Kremlin fights with bombs in Ukraine, but with words everywhere else, including in the EU.”
Fake News Transcends Platforms
Musk describes himself as a “free speech absolutist” so really, it comes as no surprise that we are where we are.
However, as mentioned, it’s not the only social media site with its problems and the spread of fake news seems to transcend platforms. There are fundamental issues with using algorithms that throw up “news” and content a user is most likely to agree and interact with, thereby creating echo chambers of seemingly real information.
Jasion Mollica, a professional lecturer in the School of Communication at American University stated: “Social networks are now tailor-made for disinformation, but much more should be done to prevent it from spreading widely. As we've seen, trending topics and algorithms monetize the negativity and anger. Until that practice is curbed, we'll see disinformation continue to dominate feeds.”
Back in May, Musk ditched the EU’s ‘Code of Practice on Disinformation’. Jourova commented on the fact that he may run, but he certainly can’t hide: “Mr Musk knows that he is not off the hook by leaving the code of practice, because now we have the Digital Services Act fully enforced. My message [for X] is: you have to comply with the hard law. We'll be watching what you're doing.”