April 24, 2024

Elon Musk’s Acquisition of X Facilitates the Monetization of Misinformation During Wartime

The social media platform formerly known as Twitter, X, has become a breeding ground for influencers to monetize and peddle misinformation about conflicts in the Middle East. Since Elon Musk’s turbulent acquisition of X in 2022, the platform has reinstated thousands of previously banned accounts and introduced a paid verification system that has unintentionally boosted conspiracy theorists.

X’s controversial policies have been criticized by researchers for prioritizing engagement over accuracy, allowing verified users to profit from spreading hateful and false information. The platform has also implemented an ad revenue-sharing program, further incentivizing the dissemination of misinformation.

Imran Ahmed, the Chief Executive of the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), explains that “cynical pay-for-play controversialists” deliberately provoke anger to increase engagement, ultimately generating more visibility and revenue for their views on Musk’s platform.

The ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas has been a hotbed for misinformation on X, propagated by influential figures like Jackson Hinkle. Hinkle falsely claimed that a video showed Iran bombing American military bases in Iraq, creating widespread concerns about a potential escalation in the Middle East. However, AFP fact-checkers discovered that the video actually depicted an attack in Iraq’s Kurdistan region.

Hinkle also spread misinformation about Yemen’s involvement in the conflict, erroneously stating that Yemen had declared war on Israel in support of the Palestinians. While Yemen’s Huthi rebels have targeted Israel with missiles and drones, neither they nor the country’s internationally recognized government have formally declared war.

In addition to crowdfunding, Hinkle offers premium content to subscribers on X for a fee of $3 per month. His appeal for support states, “Your support helps me continue exposing the Deep State after I was banned & demonetized by YouTube, Twitch, PayPal & Venmo.”

Hinkle, whose false posts have garnered millions of views, declined to disclose his X revenue when contacted by AFP. Instead, he criticized media coverage of the wars in Ukraine and the Middle East.

It is estimated by CCDH that Hinkle earns at least $3,000 per month from paid subscribers based on engagement data from his subscriber-only posts. Last August, Hinkle revealed that he also earned $1,693 through X’s ad revenue-sharing scheme, expressing dissatisfaction with the payouts received by users with smaller engagement.

Other creators, such as Britain-based Sulaiman Ahmed and Danish physician Anastasia Maria Loupis, who have been repeatedly fact-checked by AFP for spreading misinformation about wars, are also taking advantage of X’s verification and paid subscriber programs.

Musk’s creation of X has inadvertently created a platform in which authoritative sources struggle to be heard amidst the noise, while liars and hate actors thrive, generating revenue for themselves and the platform, according to CCDH’s Ahmed.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it