Social media misinformation fuels Israel-Gaza crisis

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The deadliest conflict between Israel and Hamas in over a year has been accompanied by an unprecedented surge of misinformation on social media platforms such as Meta-owned Facebook and X, formerly known as Twitter.

Experts say that the scale and speed with which false information has proliferated online in recent days is unlike ever before, and that it is being driven by a number of factors, including layoffs and cost-cutting measures that have gutted trust and safety teams, as well as changes to platform policies that have incentivized engagement over accuracy.

On X in particular, researchers say that the restoration of accounts pushing bogus conspiracies and an ad revenue-sharing program with content creators have created an environment where misinformation is allowed to thrive.

Experts fear that this misinformation could have real-world consequences, amplifying hate and violence, especially in a fast-moving crisis scenario such as the one unfolding in Israel and Gaza.

One of the most common types of misinformation circulating online is fake combat photos and videos. Social media users have been bombarded with images of old videos from Syria repurposed to look like they were taken from Gaza, as well as conflict-themed video game footage being passed off as a scene from a Hamas attack.

Fact-checkers have also debunked several posts on X, Facebook, and TikTok that promoted a fake White House document allocating $8 billion in military assistance to Israel.

Experts say that the sheer amount of doctored, fake, old videos, and images of attacks circulating online is making it harder to understand what is really going on in Israel and Gaza. They also voice concern that the misinformation, especially fake images of hostages including children, could stoke violence.

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that tech platforms appear to be abandoning efforts to elevate quality information. Social media traffic to top news websites from platforms such as Facebook and X has fallen off a cliff over the past year.

Last week, X stripped headlines from news articles shared by users, with links now appearing only as pictures. Experts say that this move could further reduce traffic to news sites.

X CEO Elon Musk himself has been criticized for encouraging his followers to follow two accounts known for spreading misinformation on the conflict.

The sources for this piece include an article in Qantara.

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