Twitter: Donald Trump Jr.’s brutal Israel video shows a truth problem

Social media has been flooded with disinformation about the Israel War for days. A clip shared by Donald Trump Jr. now shows impressively why X/Twitter’s protective mechanisms fail – precisely because it is real.

The war in Israel is affecting people around the world – including on social media. But even though there are tons of videos and images of atrocities there, their authenticity is usually anything but clear. A clip shared by Donald Trump Jr. now shows an example of how X, formerly better known as Twitter, fails to evaluate misinformation under Elon Musk.

“You can’t negotiate with something like that,” wrote the son of the ex-president of the same name on Wednesday about a clip that dramatically documented the violence perpetrated by Hamas against Israeli civilians. It comes from “a source in Israel,” he explained. And quickly received opposition. Like so many videos on the platform, this one does not come from the current conflict, a user added in one of the so-called community notes. “It’s older and doesn’t come from Israel.” The problem: This accusation is obviously not true at all.

Wrong fake

The correction itself turned out to be wrong, Wired has discovered. The tech magazine, which is anything but politically friendly to Trump, was able to determine the original source of the video with the help of a verification expert. It was therefore uploaded to Facebook for the first time on Saturday morning and is actually supposed to show Hamas fighters killing Israeli civilians. Trump reacted as you would expect: Although he refused to give a statement to Wired, he still shared the finished article. As proof that he was right.

However, the episode is particularly embarrassing for the short message service – and for its boss Elon Musk. Since taking over Twitter in October last year, he has tried to build the service into a bastion of free speech. And in doing so, to fight against the supposed censorship that, from his point of view, prevailed in the other social networks and also on Twitter before he took over. He sees the community notes as the most important tool.

Volunteer Truth Helpers

While competitors have entire teams of employees fighting the flood of misinformation and hate speech, things are supposed to be different at Twitter. The Community Notes come from a relatively small group of volunteers invited by X. According to the company, users coming from “a variety of perspectives” can add comments to posts to better classify them. At first it only happens in the background. Only when a sufficient number of other participants have marked the comment as “helpful” will it also be activated for the other X users.

This also happened with the false hoax. In the relevant post from “Mellow Sun Swan” there is even a link to a different version of the video to prove that it was distributed before the war. However, there apparently was a misunderstanding. The video, which has since been deleted, was dated “15 More 1402”. And according to the Persian calendar, that is October 7, 2023 – the day of the attack on Israel.

Between ideology and austerity measures

At the beginning of the week, an “NBC” investigation showed how unsuitable the community notes system is to react to rapidly developing situations such as the war in Israel. The news channel had collected numerous posts about two confirmed false reports, only a tiny fraction of them had been provided with community notes – even though some of the posts had been seen by hundreds of thousands of users. Apparently the volunteers simply can’t keep up with the volume of posts.

There is probably one main reason why X relies on this system at all, aside from Musk’s praise for freedom of expression: it saves the company money. Since the takeover, X has lost a massive amount of advertising revenue. In order to reduce costs, the company has already thrown out the majority of its employees. This includes almost the entire team that was responsible for the fight against disinformation.

There are also changes to verification: Instead of confirmed accounts, Musk introduced a paid subscription model, which also promises more reach and a share of advertising revenue. And thus creates an incentive to use all means possible to ensure greater reach. Even if you may not be sure of the authenticity of the reports.

Regarding the atrocity video shared by Trump, the Community Note has since been changed. She now refers to the “Wired” article and confirms the authenticity of the clip. However, X users can no longer watch it on Trump: the controversial video has since been removed from the post.

Sources:XWired, Rolling Stone, The Guardian, NBC