Collateral Tech Damage Of Hamas Attack: The Final Demise Of Twitter
Elon Musk has been criticized before for his management of Twitter, now known as X. But it was not until Saturday that the social network revealed just how inept and dangerous it had become, as fake news spread far and wide. It may never recover.
No, Twitter didn't end on July 24, 2023 — that's when Elon Musk, seemingly out of the blue, decided it would be called X.
Twitter, as we'd come to know it and appreciate its usefulness, died on the morning of October 7, following the surprise terror attack by Hamas and the Israeli response. The platform's deeper transformation of the past months was revealed to us that day, in all its ugliness: Rather than a natural evolution, Twitter has experienced a ghastly genetic mutation.
X has failed to live up to Musk's old dream of a single app that does everything for everyone. But X has also become something far from the once-loved social network that invented microblogging in 2006, helping users share their insights into the world in 140 characters.
The little blue bird today is an unrecognizable beast. It's like a public intersection without traffic light and signs, and chances are you've also heard the sound of the crashes on your timeline.
Lifeline of the masses
Sure, nothing lasts forever. Things change, and sometimes they die. Twitter seems to have hit a dead end, and that's a pity. Because if it's indeed game over, it will mean that we've lost something important.
Whether it was war, a popular uprising or an earthquake, there was a place you could turn to if you wanted immediate information. Where you could feel the heartbeat of the world in real time. That place could never be the television or newspaper — it could only be Twitter.
You felt like you were somehow lending a hand to a good cause.
Thousands of ordinary people would post updates on any crisis anywhere in the world – text, photos, videos – before any journalist could reach the scene. You could participate in the discussion, share a tweet to amplify its audience, and you felt like you were somehow lending a hand to a good cause.
The illusion that a retweet was enough to help bring down a distant regime may have fooled many armchair revolutionaries, but it cannot be denied that Twitter was a lifeline for people on the ground who tried to change the world at the cost of their lives.
Without it, perhaps there would have been no Arab Spring, immortalized through the tweeted pictures of the protests in Egypt's Tahrir Square, nor the unsuccessful Iranian revolution in 2009, or even the successful one in Ukraine in 2014. Twitter was the weapon of the masses.
Thread: Day two of online misinformation about the Israel-Hamas conflict\n\nThis video, viewed 1.3 million times, falsely claims to show senior Israeli generals captured by Hamas. It actually shows the arrest of Karabakh separatist leaders by Azerbaijan's security service.— Shayan Sardarizadeh (@Shayan Sardarizadeh) 1696787289
Then came Musk
Then, about a year ago, Elon Musk came onto the scene. Twitter's name change appears benign compared to the other shifts he brought about, dismantling the team that moderated content, removed violent or blatantly false tweets, and partly replacing it with "community notes," a token form of self-management.
Meanwhile, certified users, those you could trust 100%, the ones with the famous blue checkmark, are no longer truly authoritative. Anyone can have it for $8 per month. Want to spread lies or wild opinions and be rewarded by X's algorithm, seen by millions of people? Pay for the blue checkmark.
The gruesome outcome of Musk's style of management has played out before us in the aftermath of the Gaza crisis: in the hours immediately following Hamas's attack and Israel's counterattack, scenes from video games were passed off as real images; a fireworks party in Algeria was misrepresented as a bombing; a video of the war in Syria from three years ago was presented as if it had just been shot in Gaza; another of an Israeli general captured by Hamas was viewed almost two million times - except it was actually an Azerbaijani separatist; and a supposed photo of Cristiano Ronaldo with the Palestinian flag — actually a Moroccan soccer player at the 2022 World Cup — went viral.
September 13, Washington: Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and owner of X, arrives for the Inaugural AI Insight Forum on Capitol Hill
In the first two days of the conflict, X was overwhelmed by disinformation to the point that on Monday, CEO Linda Laccarino canceled all public engagements to deal with "platform security," while the tiny content moderation team issued a statement saying that they were doing their best. For instance, they suspended the fake Jerusalem Post profile that had claimed Netanyahu was in the hospital.
It now seems impossible to stop
Too little, too late. Let's be clear: it's not as if Twitter was ever free from disinformation. But by now it seems almost impossible to stop because the algorithm promotes those who pay over those who are credible.
Musk himself falls among the blatantly non-credible. On Sunday, soon after the conflict erupted, he invited everyone to follow exactly two accounts — both well-known for spreading disinformation. That message was later deleted, but not before it raked in 11 million views.
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