So Long, Twitter -- I'm Outta There
Elon owns his own shitshow. I see no reason to enable his distribution of excrement any further.
In my last post I warned readers of Drezner’s World that Twitter-That-Was had proven itself to be a shitty source of information during the last real-time international crisis, and that it was likely to be even worse with the Israel/Hamas war: “I anticipate the continued enshittification of information flows… [So] check the sources of any information about this war.”
It is legitimately impressive, therefore, that Elon Musk’s flaming dung pile actually managed to prove even more toxic than I had expected. The Washington Post’s Joseph Menn reports that Musk personally contributed to that state of affairs:
As false information about the rapidly changing war between Gaza Strip militants and Israel proliferated on the social media platform X over the weekend, owner Elon Musk personally recommended that users follow accounts notorious for promoting lies.
“For following the war in real-time, @WarMonitors & @sentdefender are good,” Musk posted on the platform formerly called Twitter on Sunday morning to 150 million follower accounts. That post was viewed 11 million times in three hours, drawing thanks from those two accounts, before Musk deleted it. Both were among the most important early spreaders of a false claim in May that there had been an explosion near the White House. The Dow Jones Industrial Average stock index briefly dropped 85 points before that story was debunked.
Emerson T. Brooking, a researcher at the Atlantic Council Digital Forensics Research Lab, posted that @sentdefender is an “absolutely poisonous account. regularly posting wrong and unverifiable things … inserting random editorialization and trying to juice its paid subscriber count.”
The War Monitor account has argued with others over Israel and religion, posting a year ago that “the overwhelming majority of people in the media and banks are zionists” and telling a correspondent in June to “go worship a jew lil bro.”
While all major world events are now accompanied almost instantly by a deluge of disinformation aimed at controlling the narrative, the scale and speed at which disinformation was being seeded about the Israel-Hamas conflict is unprecedented—particularly on X.
“For many reasons, this is the hardest time I’ve ever had covering a crisis on here,” Justin Peden, an OSINT researcher from Alabama known online as the Intel Crab, posted on X. “Credible links are now photos. On the ground news outlets struggle to reach audiences without an expensive blue check mark. Xenophobic goons are boosted by the platform’s CEO. End times, folks.”
When Peden covered the escalation in Gaza in 2021, the sources he was seeing in his feed were from people on the ground or credible news agencies. This weekend, he says, verified content or primary sources were virtually impossible to find on X….
Rather than being shown verified and fact-checked information, X users were presented with video game footage passed off as footage of a Hamas attack and images of firework celebrations in Algeria presented as Israeli strikes on Hamas. There were faked pictures of soccer superstar Ronaldo holding the Palestinian flag, while a three-year-old video from the Syrian civil war repurposed to look like it was taken this weekend….
Experts believe that the proliferation of disinformation on X around the Israel-Hamas conflict this weekend is largely the result of changes Musk has made to the platform over the past year, including his decision to fire most of the people responsible for tackling disinformation.
The hard-working staff here at Drezner’s World is not surprised by the enshittification of X given Elon Musk’s intellectual predilections and Linda Yaccarino’s managerial incompetence. The scope of it has gotten way worse, however, to the point where I need to reduce my already limited engagement with the Birdsite That Was.
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After Musk’s takeover started to affect Twitter, I reduced my engagement with Twitter to two activities: tweeting out my writing here at Drezner’s World and in other venues, and pointing out the myriad ways that the Twitter experience was getting worse. I did the former because, well, with 150,000 followers, it seemed like a useful megaphone. I did the latter because it put the lie to all of Musk’s claims that he was improving the social media experience.
I had hoped that would be sufficient. But Musk is making the place increasingly inhospitable for anyone who is not a bullshit artist.
Even prior to the start of the Israel-Hamas conflict, Bloomberg’s Dave Lee had decided that engaging with the site had become morally indefensible after seeing how the site handled a murder in his neighborhood:
Social networks are molded by the incentives presented to users. In the same way we can encourage people to buy greener cars with subsidies or promote healthy living by giving out smartwatches, so, too, can levers be pulled to improve the health of online life. Online, people can’t be told what to post, but sites can try to nudge them toward behaving in a certain manner, whether through design choices or reward mechanisms….
X is now an app that forcibly puts abhorrent content into users’ feeds and then rewards financially the people who were the most successful in producing it, egging them on to do it again and again and make it part of their living. Know this: As the scramble for attention increases, the content will need to become more violent, more tragic and more divisive to stand out. More car crashes, high school fights and public humiliation.
Decency long left the building at X. It flows from the very top. When former executive Yoel Roth, whom Musk wrongly accused of being a pedophile, warned recently about hate speech on X, CEO Linda Yaccarino’s first reaction was to play down his concerns. On Monday, Musk followed up: “I have rarely seen evil in as pure a form as Yoel Roth.”
I have. It was on the corner of Malcolm X Boulevard and Lafayette Avenue that Monday night, as replayed to the hordes of baying, heartless ghouls X is happy to host and, in some cases, finance. To continue to engage at length with X is to enable this cycle of behavior. You can count me out.
Same. I’ll post something on X once a week or so just so my handle does not get expropriated. At this point, however, even tweeting out my Substack links feels like it aids and abets a social media site that subtracts considerably from the human experience.
I can mourn what Musk has done to a site that, while imperfect, generated considerable utility compared to the flaming garbage fire that it is now. But there is no point in continuing to tweet about it — or anything else for that matter. It is what it is. The best I can do is wash my hands and pledge to do my small part not to publicize his trainwreck of a website.