Opinion | Twitter Gave Us an Indispensable Real-Time News Platform. X Took It Away.

“The war in Gaza marks the end of that era. X CEO Elon Musk has so profoundly undermined the functions that made Twitter useful in an international crisis that it is now counterproductive to turn to it if you hope to understand what’s happening on the ground when news breaks around the world. Over the course of 10 years, X has evolved from indispensable to useless.
It’s fitting that along with his other changes, Musk changed the name of the company. Literally and figuratively, we’re witnessing the first post-Twitter major world conflict.

Disinformation and misinformation proliferated on the platform prior to Musk’s takeover. But the difference in degree is so significant now as to amount to a difference in kind. Almost every significant change Musk has made has reduced its value as a source of reliable information from and for people affected by a disaster, and every change, similarly, has increased its utility to malicious propagandists and scammers.

When Musk arrived, he dissolved Twitter’s Trust and Safety Council, the advisory group of some 100 independent civil, human rights and other organizations that helped the company to combat misinformation, and fired its full-time Trust and Safety employees, including all but one member of the AI ethics team that monitored algorithmic amplification.

He blew up the old verification system. A blue check once signified that the account belonged to someone whose identity had been confirmed and who fell under one of the following categories: government; companies, brands and organizations; news organizations and journalists; entertainment; sports and gaming; activists and organizers; content creators; and influential individuals.

The prevalence on Twitter of verified journalists, academics, researchers and government sources made it possible, in a crisis, to quickly find reliable people who were on the ground and who could probably be trusted to report what they were seeing in reasonably good faith. Now, the blue checkmark signifies only that the owner has paid for it. When you buy a blue check, your posts go to the top of the search results and replies, irrespective of others’ desire to see them.

X now pays users based on the number of views they receive, creating a massive incentive to post sensationalistic and inflammatory lies. On-the-ground witnesses — and worse, people who need help — can’t reach their audiences unless they have a costly blue check mark and a willingness to compete with the most outrageous promoted content.

Musk has stripped headlines and summaries off article previews. Images are no longer accompanied by context, making it that much easier to misunderstand them and that much less likely that users will read the article. Meanwhile, Musk promotes — directly, via his own tweets and algorithmically — conspiracy theorists, Russian war propagandists, hostile-state media, foreign and domestic extremists and engagement farmers who exploit pain and tragedy to gain followers.”

“A massive number of accounts posting images that purport to be from Gaza are in fact posting images from unrelated conflicts. These tweets have racked up millions of views and shares.”

“According to Cyabra, an Israeli analysis firm, pro-Hamas forces have launched a coordinated influence operations campaign involving tens of thousands of fake profiles. As a result, one in five social media accounts participating in the conversation about the war in Gaza are fake. One in four pro-Hamas profiles are fake. It’s not clear who is creating and using these fake profiles to spread disinformation, but it could be anyone from Russian internet trolls to antisemites to far-right hucksters who are eager to make a buck.

Accounts that were once clearly labeled as state-affiliated, such as that of Iran’s Press TV, are no longer distinguished from others. In September, an EU report found that the “reach and influence” of Kremlin-backed accounts on social media, and on X in particular, had increased in 2023.

In another study, the EU found that disinformation was more easily found on X than on any other social media platform. It also received more engagement than it did on any other platform.

That report found that X had the highest ratio of what the authors called “disinformation actors” to real posts. “The average engagement with mis/disinformation content found on X is 1.977 times as high as the average engagement with non-mis/disinformation,” the authors wrote. In other words, X users are twice as likely to engage with lies as the truth.”

“Meanwhile, good sources of information are leaving the platform. Many of the most useful voices are now gone. Reporters have fled, largely moving to Bluesky. But Bluesky can’t replace X yet; its network is too small. You can use it to talk to other journalists, not so much to find sources or promote your work to your readers.

To judge by the responses to the fake tweets, most people have no idea they’re fake. Musk certainly doesn’t. Recently, he recommended (in a since-deleted tweet) that his followers follow two well-known disinformation accounts — one of them, for example, provides such helpful analysis as, “The overwhelming majority of people in the media and banks are zi0nists.” When Musk suggests something like this, it is not just his 162 million followers who see it. You can mute him, but unless you do, everything Musk says is now forced into the timeline of every user of the platform, whether or not they follow him.”

“This state of affairs is massively deleterious to American national security. Members of Congress are as vulnerable to hostile disinformation as anyone else. One morning, I watched a number of Russian accounts, including that of former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, begin simultaneously to push out the line that Israel had been attacked with weapons the U.S. sent to Ukraine, which Israelis immediately denied. By afternoon, U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) was asserting this as fact.”

“The degeneration of the quality of information on X means that journalists who are still on the platform waste far more time looking for the signal in the noise. They waste more time running down rumors. They are at greater risk of sharing fake information. They are doubtless absorbing narratives and framings from X shaped by disinformation, even if they’re not sharing falsehoods.”

“At least in the short term, the market won’t be able to solve this problem because Twitter’s value to consumers was owed to its market dominance. Everyone used it. A number of competitors are now trying to fill the void, but because the microblogging market is now fractured, no company can play the central role Twitter played.”


Elon Musk’s Israel disinformation investigation, explained

“In the hours after the Hamas attack on Israel began, users subscribed to X Premium — whose accounts show a verified check mark and get boosted engagement in exchange for a monthly fee — spread a number of particularly egregious pieces of misinformation. According to a running tracker by Media Matters, these accounts amplified a fake White House memo claiming the US government was about to send $8 billion in aid to Israel; circulated videos from other conflicts (and in some cases, footage from a video game) while claiming they showed the latest out of Israel and Gaza; falsely claimed that a church in Gaza had been bombed; and impersonated a news outlet. These posts were shared by X users with huge followings and viewed tens of millions of times. The Tech Transparency Project said on Thursday that it had identified X Premium accounts promoting Hamas propaganda videos, which were viewed hundreds of thousands of times.”


Even Elon Musk can’t fully wreck Twitter’s one great superpower

“the TV ratings Nielsen reports have no correlation to the viewership numbers Twitter is reporting. For starters, as always, Nielsen is reporting the average viewership the debates generated, not the total number of views, which is what online outlets generally report. That’s not a new discrepancy, and at this point everyone in tech and media should know better but either doesn’t or pretends not to.

More important, under Musk, Twitter has moved to an even more fanciful description of “viewership,” where it’s not even pretending to count people who watch the video. Instead, it’s simply measuring the number of times someone has seen the tweet with the video scroll through their feed, as the Washington Post’s Will Oremus reports.”


Who is Linda Yaccarino, Elon Musk’s pick for new Twitter CEO?

“Yaccarino is a seasoned media executive who could help repair Twitter’s relationship with its advertisers, many of whom have quit or cut back from the platform recently because of Musk’s perceived volatility. She has a reputation for being a tough negotiator and was key in the launch of NBCUniversal’s digital Peacock streaming service, according to the Wall Street Journal. She’s also a known Trump supporter, according to sources. In the past few months, Yaccarino has publicly praised Musk, and she interviewed him at a major advertising conference in April — paving her way, in the eyes of media insiders, to take on the role.”

“if you think that means the Elon-Twitter story is over, don’t hold your breath. Musk is still very much in control. He will still be the owner of Twitter. Unless he sells the company — or a controlling share of it — he’s the one calling the shots.
How much power he gives Yaccarino is entirely at Musk’s discretion.”

The biggest problem with Ron DeSantis’s announcement wasn’t Twitter

““Woke derangement syndrome” is not the same as being generically “anti-woke.” There are plenty of pundits and academics who have presented cogent and reasonable criticisms of the dominant approaches to identity politics on the contemporary left — ranging from Adolph Reed Jr. on the socialist left to my former colleague Matt Yglesias on the center left to Glenn Loury on the center right. Their ideas merit serious engagement rather than dismissal.
Rather, woke derangement syndrome is an obsessive focus on the evils of wokeness that warps one’s worldview. The afflicted’s participation in the culture war has, in one shape or another, distorted their judgment and weakened their hold on reality.”

“DeSantis’s governance of Florida has shown a similar tendency to see everything through the woke lens. Whether it’s his attempt to transform a small public college into a right-wing academy, his seemingly unconstitutional effort to punish social media companies for content regulation, or the “Don’t Say Gay” law restricting education on LGBTQ topics in primary school, the culture war has dominated DeSantis’s agenda.”

The ridiculous but important Twitter check mark fiasco, explained

“Verification used to be a way for users to know that a profile belonged to the person or organization it purported to be. It was reserved for the accounts that would need such an indicator, including those of famous people, companies, and journalists, who got blue check marks appended to their profiles to make that verification easy for everyone to see.
It has now become a symbol of who is willing to pay $8 a month for “Twitter Blue.” Or, in the case of organizations, a symbol of who is willing to pay at least $1,000 a month.”

“Musk framed the move as a way to open up Twitter’s blue checks, which to some had become a symbol of unfair and much-desired privilege that was bestowed upon people they didn’t like.”

“the core problem remains that Twitter is no longer verifying the identity of users who get a blue check, nor is it a symbol of authenticity. Anyone who has a phone number and a credit card can appear “verified,” though Twitter supposedly vets accounts to ensure they’re not pretending to be someone else when they initially sign up, and temporarily takes their blue check away if they change their names or profile photos.”

“Twitter began verifying accounts in 2009 to settle a lawsuit from famous baseball guy Tony La Russa over a fake Tony La Russa account. Back then, it was relatively easy to squat on a famous person’s name and make a fake account pretending to be them. That’s why Donald Trump had to go with “@realDonaldTrump” when he joined Twitter; someone had already taken @donaldtrump and made it a Trump parody account. Tina Fey says she’s never been on Twitter, but a lot of people sure thought @TinaFey (now @NotTinaFey) was her. And then there are the many, many Fake Will Ferrell Twitter accounts. That said, like most things Twitter, verification isn’t perfect: Author Cormac McCarthy’s fake account was somehow verified as recently as 2021.”