War in Gaza Intensifies Internet Misinformation Concerns

Technology Policy Brief #101 | By: Mindy Spatt | November 19, 2023

Photo taken from: aljazeera.com


Policy Summary:

Misinformation on the Internet is an urgent, worldwide concern according to UNESCO. The danger of false information spreading online has only intensified in the wake of the war in Gaza, and Twitter is one of the wort culprits.

Policy Analysis:

A survey by UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, covering16 countries that collectively contain 2.5 billion voters, showed that the vast majority of people, 85%, are concerned about the harm disinformation can do, and 87% believe such harm has occurred in recent years.  In addition, respondents reported that hate speech was prevalent; 67% of respondents said they has seen it online.  For people under 35 that number was 74%.

“Social media platforms have …accelerated and amplified the spread of false information and hate speech, posing major risks to societal cohesion, peace and stability” said UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay in a press release.

UNESCO released an action plan along with the study that included concrete steps social media platforms should take to curb misinformation.  One of those is having a team of qualified moderators in all the main languages used on the platform that is robust enough to be able to control what’s being posted.

That is not the case on X/Twitter, where the war in Gaza has given rise to a huge amount of misinformation.  According to advocacy group Free Press,
“Twitter is now inundated with grisly content and lies about the Middle East conflict,… a natural result of Elon Musk’s decision to lay off most of the company’s Trust and Safety team and gut the platform’s content-moderation rules.”

“With few left at the company to vet questionable and violent content, posts are often left unchecked to spread like wildfire,” Free Press said in a blog post that

specifically calls out Musk’s decision to elevate paid subscribers’ posts, regardless of whether the user’s identities have been verified.

Newsguard, a media organization that “provides transparent tools to counter misinformation for readers, brands, and democracies,” has also found rampant misinformation about the war on X/Twitter.  Newsguard staff collect data points from “more than 35,000 news and information sources” to track the spread of false narratives online.

Newsguard launched the Israel-Hamas War Misinformation Tracking Center on October 11, documenting the spread of a rash of false narratives about the war.  At the time Newsguard identified 14 unsubstantiated or false stories being spread through 22 million views on X/Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram.

Of those false reports 10 were found and shared on X/Twitter, including the false claim that Ukraine had sold weapons to Hamas; a video purporting to show Hamas fighters celebrating an Israeli toddler’s abduction and a completely fictional claim that CNN had staged footage of a news crew being attacked in Israel.

According to the Free Press, “Disinformation about the Israel-Hamas conflict is a horrific example of why we so desperately need better moderation and tech executives who put platform integrity — and saving lives —over their hunger for profits. The current conflict is a case in point and the reason Free Press and our allies have been calling for stronger vetting by platforms year round.”

Engagement Resources:

  • Musk’s X egregious in its misinformation about Israel-Gaza war; EU threatens fines, Oct. 11, 2023
  • Israel-Hamas War Misinformation Tracking Center: 45 Myths About the Conflict and Counting
  • Guidelines for the governance of digital platforms: safeguarding freedom of expression and access to information through a multi-stakeholder approach


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