Unravelling the Web: Disinformation Challenges on X and Elon Musk’s Battle Plan

Alfie Johnson 

In a world brimming with global events, from elections to conflicts, the flow of accurate information is pivotal to our understanding of the unfolding narratives. Imagine if you had to question whether you could trust the news that you turned on every morning. However, the rise of misinformation online, and especially on social media platforms is rife. With our increasingly constant online presence, we must tackle this. Alfie Johnson explores how disinformation on X, formerly known as Twitter, has become a prominent issue and the measures which Elon Musk and X are taking to try and combat this troubling issue.

On 25 August 2023, the EU introduced the ‘Digital Services Act’ which immediately came into effect for a range of global online platforms including X. The Digital Services Act ensures that online platforms incorporate measures to counter illegal goods, services and content including disinformation. Companies failing to safeguard users against extreme content face hefty fines or suspensions. A subsequent European Commission study revealed that X, out of six major social networks, including Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok, had the highest incidence of disinformation. This has sparked widespread speculation regarding the trustworthiness of information circling X.

A ‘game-changer’ in the fight against misinformation

So how did X get here? Following Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter in October 2022, he laid off many content moderators who were previously tracking misinformation and abuse on the platform. Despite this causing significant public concern, Musk championed X’s ‘Community Notes’ system (formerly Birdwatch) as a solution. Originally launched in 2021 by Twitter’s former CEO Jack Dorsey, Musk has invested in and expanded the program, identifying it as a ‘game-changer’ in the fight against misinformation.

‘Community Notes’ operates on a crowd-sourced fact-checking model present in 50 countries, boasting over 133,000 contributors. The program seeks to debunk propaganda and misinformation, with volunteers monitoring tweets and replies for potential misleading content.

Only around 8.5% of community notes were visible to X users, with over 100,000 notes kept from public view

However, doubts linger about the program’s effectiveness in curbing misinformation. In June 2023, MediaWise director Alex Mahadevan criticized X’s failure to combat misinformation at GlobalFact 10, an event hosted by the International Fact-Checking Network. Mahadevan revealed that only around 8.5% of community notes were visible to X users, with over 100,000 notes kept from public view. He highlighted flaws in the system, where volunteers judged whether the notes used high-quality sources, were easy to understand or provided important context. Notes that lack sufficient ratings are less likely to be displayed publicly.

The community notes system therefore requires an ideological agreement on the truth amongst the volunteers to be displayed publicly and warn users against disinformation. However, this has its obvious flaws, with it being difficult to achieve agreement of opinion on political information in an increasingly partisan political environment. 

Is public opinion being influenced by political agendas that are being promoted through disinformation?

So, X’s ‘Community Notes’ seems to be failing in its attempt to stop the spread of disinformation, but what does this mean for us? Are we interacting with and sharing information that is categorically false? Or is public opinion being influenced by political agendas that are being promoted through disinformation? Whether these are happening or not, it is clear that the Digital Services Act is a step in the right direction in combatting disinformation on platforms such as X.

Alfie Johnson 

Featured image courtesy of Mati Mango via Pexels Image license found here. No changes were made to this image. 

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