The Memo: Fake news and misinformation surrounding the situation in Gaza

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Fake news and misinformation surrounding the situation in Gaza

Sose Ebodaghe – 30 October 2023

You’d be forgiven for thinking that stories about fake news seem to pop every few months at the moment, but while it’s always helpful to be wary of misinformation, it’s more important now than ever before. The escalation of the conflict in Gaza recent weeks has again cast light on the danger posed by false information circulating online. There has been a proliferation of misinformation concerning these events, including edited images and mislabelled videos. In this case, perhaps even more than usual, such misinformation can pose a very genuine threat to the public. In cases like this, it serves to mislead and manipulate the masses by weaponizing social media to purposefully incite confusion, agitation, and encourage division.

So, are there any grounds for placing any faith in digital information? The UK is governed by the Online Safety Bill, introduced with the aim of making the UK a safe place to be online. The Bill requires platforms to tackle and remove illegal material, and in doing so, seeks to ‘ensure a safe, predictable and trusted online environment [by] addressing the dissemination of illegal content online.’ Yet Europe-wide, it’s the Digital Services Act that enforces this. Having been introduced into Eu law less than a year ago, smaller companies aren’t bound by it just yet, but the target has been the large social media platforms that play such a big role in the space, including Amazon, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, and X. These platforms are beginning to be held legally accountable for the content its users post to them, meaning that these platforms must find ways to prevent and delete posts containing illegal goods, services, and content.

This is where Elon Musk’s X (formerly known as Twitter) has run into a few issues. The EU has launched an investigation into X concerning the potential perpetuation of hate speech on the platform following the actions of Hamas in Israel. What’s more, this follows the platform’s recent reduction in staff, most notably, the shedding of teams specifically assembled to curb the spread of disinformation. In addition, X’s algorithm is partial to pushing posts from blue-check accounts, a service that Musk has monetized since his acquisition of X. If these posts do especially well, blue-check users can be compensated. The problem this creates is that it provides a financial incentive for creators to post whatever will likely go viral, irrespective of truth or validity. Some of the fabrications that have already slipped through on X include a doctored White House memo of Joe Biden claiming to give Israel billions in aid, and video game clip made out to be footage from the conflict.

Of course, X isn’t alone. Platforms like Facebook, TikTok and YouTube have also been inundated with unsubstantiated information in recent weeks. In fact, chief executives at X continue to be adamant that no laws have been broken, but the results of the EU’s investigation will become clearer as the weeks unfold, and the situation in Gaza develops.