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Social Media Flooded With Israel-Hamas War Fake News

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Hours after Hamas attacked Israel on Saturday, X, the social network was flooded with fake videos, photos, and misinformation about the conflict.

“Imagine if this happened in our neighbourhood, to your family,” said Ian Miles Cheong, a far-right commentator with whom Musk frequently interacts, alongside a video purportedly showing Palestinian fighters killing Israeli citizens.

According to a Community Note, an X feature that allows users to add context to posts, the people in the video were members of Israeli law enforcement, not Hamas.

However, the video remains online and has received millions of views. An Al Jazeera search revealed that hundreds of other X accounts had shared the clip on the platform, some of them with verified tick marks.

Disinformation – deliberately spread fake news – about the war and the Israel-Palestine conflict in general spread across other social networks as well, but the platform appears to have seen the worst of it thanks to Musk’s revamped policies that allow anyone to pay to be verified as well as large scale layoffs in X’s Trust and Safety teams.

X, Meta, which owns Facebook, Instagram, and Threads, TikTok, and BlueSky, did not respond to a request for comment from Al Jazeera.

On Monday, X announced that there were more than 50 million posts about the conflict on the platform over the weekend.

In response, the company stated that it had removed newly created Hamas accounts, escalated “tens of thousands of posts” for sharing graphic media and hate speech, and updated its policies that define what the platform considers “newsworthy.”

“These massive companies are still stumped by the proliferation of disinformation, even though no one is surprised by it,” said Irina Raicu, director of the Internet Ethics Programme at Santa Clara University.

“They release numbers, such as how many posts they’ve removed, how many accounts they’ve blocked, and what settings you might want to change if you don’t want to see carnage.” What they don’t reveal are their failure metrics: how many distortions were not accompanied by ‘Community Notes’ or otherwise labelled, and for how long. It is up to journalists and researchers to document their failures after they have occurred.”

‘Old And Recycled Footage’

In response to real-world conflicts, bad actors have repeatedly used social media platforms to spread disinformation in recent years. In 2019, for example, rumours and hoaxes flooded Twitter and Facebook after India and Pakistan, two nuclear powers, were on the verge of war following Pakistan’s downing of two Indian warplanes and capture of an Indian pilot.

This week, on X, a user known as The Indian Muslim posted a video with the caption “More power to you #Hamas,” claiming that it showed a Hamas-armed fighter firing a large, shoulder-mounted rocket cannon and downing an Israeli helicopter.

Multiple disinformation researchers pointed out on social media and in interviews with Al Jazeera that the footage was from the video game Arma 3. The post, which includes Community Notes, is still up and has received over 500,000 views.

Another post by British social media influencer Jim Ferguson claims to show Hamas soldiers using US weapons “left behind in Afghanistan to attack Israel.”

However, the photo depicts Taliban soldiers from 2021, not Hamas, according to Community Notes. Fergusson’s post has received over 10 million views and is still available on the platform.

Dina Sadek, a Middle East research fellow at the Atlantic Council’s DFRLab, told Al Jazeera that another false narrative her team had seen spreading on platforms was that Hamas received help planning the attack from within Israel.

“There’s old and recycled footage circulating online that is overwhelming and makes it difficult for users to discern what is real and what is not,” he said.

Sadek added that disinformation about the attack is also spreading across platforms. “Some TikTok videos find their way to X, and some footage that appeared on Telegram first is then seen on X,” she went on to say.

“The flood of grifters spreading lies and hatred about the Israel-Gaza crisis in recent days, combined with algorithms that aggressively promote extreme and disturbing content, is exactly why social media has become such a bad place to access reliable information,” Imran Ahmed, CEO of the Centre for Countering Digital Hate, told Al Jazeera.

“Tech companies have proven themselves uninterested, if not utterly complicit, in the spread of dangerous propaganda.”

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