U.S. Senators Accuse X of Profiting From Terrorist Propaganda in the App

The challenges keep coming for X, with a group of more than two dozen House Democrats in the U.S. issuing a letter that accuses the platform of “profiting off violent content by a terrorist organization”, in relation to the Israel-Hamas war.

The accusations primarily relate to X’s “X Premium” subscription program, which the senators claim has seen X take in money from terrorist groups, who are looking to spread their propaganda and messaging in the app.

As per the letter:

Researchers reported that at least 20 out of 45 accounts it found to have posted terrorist propaganda were X Premium accounts, meaning that they are paying for verification without any formalized vetting process and being promoted by the website’s algorithm.”

The Senators also claim that X “has financially benefited from the spread of demonstrably false and misleading content” in the app:

“The media watchdog, NewsGuard, recently published analysis of the 250 most-engaged posts – likes, reposts, replies, and bookmarks – during the first week of the conflict that promoted at least one of ten prominent false or unsubstantiated narratives relating to the war. Their analysis revealed that 186 out of these 250 posts (74 percent) were posted by accounts verified by X – accounts that X directly profits from. Their analysis also found that posts advancing these myths collectively received 1,349,979 engagements and were cumulatively viewed more than 100 million times globally in just one week.”

The letter also highlights X’s creator ad revenue share program as another vector for concern, as it enables users to get paid for their posts, and any claims in them, in the app.

The senators allege that this has created an inadvertent incentive for people to post more divisive, harmful content, including terror-related material and misinformation, in order to maximize engagement, and thus, ensure greater revenue intake.

The Senators have further raised “grave concern” about X’s “ongoing failure to abide by its own policies” relating to the promotion of misinformation and hateful, violent, and terroristic propaganda videos.

“This follows a troubling pattern of increased antisemitism on the platform since Mr. Musk’s purchase. A March 2023 study by CASM Technology and the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) documented a near-doubling of the total number of anti-Semitic tweets in his first three months of ownership. In September, in response to this dramatic increase of antisemitism on X, Israel’s Prime Minister personally urged Mr. Musk to tackle antisemitism on the platform. Now, in the days following Hamas’ horrific October 7th terrorist attack on Israel, we’ve seen an inexcusable situation become outright indefensible.”

The Senators have called on X to provide explanations as to how its working to address these concerns, and what measures it’s implementing to improve its systems on each front.

The accusations, which are co-signed by 27 Democrat representatives, are set to further underline the political division around the app, and comes just a day after Texas’ Republican Attorney-General Ken Paxton opened his own investigation into Media Matters over it potentially fabricating evidence in its recent reports, which showed that X is displaying ads alongside racist and anti-Semitic content.

X owner Elon Musk, meanwhile, is using such accusations to embolden his push for “free speech”, accusing those who make such claims of working for a pro-censorship agenda, as the broader powers that be look to shut down X for challenging mainstream narratives.

Which is a vague, and unproven accusation, and really, more of a rallying cry for Musk’s supporters than it is an actual, realistic defense. But regardless, that’s what Musk is going with, as he and his team look to challenge such claims in court, despite all available evidence suggesting that X has no real way to demonstrably counter such evidence.

Indeed, Musk’s push back against the latest accusations that X is showing ads alongside harmful content has prompted a range of users to find their own examples of such in the app, which has seen many able to replicate the ad placement that Media Matters displayed.

It seems likely, then, that the accusations in this new letter will be provable, which will cause more challenges for X, which is already facing an advertiser boycott over the latest accusations, along with Musk’s own controversial comments.

Elon, however, seems confident that he can fight back. But the real challenge for X will be in how long it takes for such a legal challenge to go through, and what impact that has on its ad business in the meantime.  

X was already staring down a significant loss for the year before these new challenges, after seeing a more than 50% decline in ad revenue following Musk’s takeover at the app. The loss of more ad dollars will only worsen its financial state, though Musk, of course, has other resources that he could tap into to keep the company afloat. But the challenges will continue to grow, unless X can get its ad business back on track.

Meanwhile, Threads, Meta’s X competitor app continues to grow, with U.S. President Joe Biden yesterday joining the app, which, again, will further underline political division between the two alternatives.

Which could push X more into conservative social app territory, which hasn’t been fruitful ground, from a financial perspective, for Parler, Gab, Truth Social, etc.

But that does increasingly seem like where X is headed, due to Elon’s insistence on sharing his thoughts and opinions on every divisive topic, and his resolution to fight back, rather than seeking to address potential problems.

And it does seem, based on a growing number of third-party investigations, that there are flaws to address in X’s systems.

In this sense, it’s less of an assault on free speech, and more of a push to reduce instances of harmful, terror-related content, but Elon also seems to have made his stand. Which could be a big problem for his “everything app” vision.

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