X or The Not-So-Superhero in the Fight Against Russian Propaganda

Elon Musk's X (formerly known as Twitter) has found itself in hot water, and the European Commission isn't handing out gold stars for its performance in a twist that would make even the best soap opera jealous. We question if our tech superheroes are the bad guys in disguise after learning from a recent European Union (E.U.) investigation that X was instrumental in distributing Russian propaganda over Ukraine.

In contrast to our friends across the pond, the United States and the European Union have adopted a strict stance against disinformation. They even have a flashy law known as the Digital Services Act (DSA), which took effect in August 2023 for significant social media sites. The European Union says, "Hey, tech giants, you've got some explaining to do."

Now, let's dive into the drama. The study reveals that Russian disinformation about Ukraine continued to thrive despite some voluntary promises to tackle Russian propaganda made by the big social media dogs, including Meta (formerly Facebook). If the DSA had been around last year, X would have been in violation, and oh boy, you don't want to be on the wrong side of E.U. social media law.

According to the study, in 2022, the influence of social media accounts aligned with the Kremlin skyrocketed across Europe. The early analysis is quite alarming, indicating that in the first half of 2023, the impact of Kremlin-backed funds continued to expand. This concerning growth can be attributed, at least partially, to X's regrettable decision to significantly lower its safety standards. It's a painful realization indeed.

But wait, there's more! X wasn't the only one failing at superhero duty. Instagram, Telegram, and Facebook (owned by Meta) also got a smack on the wrist for their roles in the propaganda parade. Pro-Kremlin accounts seemed to have quite the party on Meta's platforms. Telegram saw its audience for Kremlin-backed accounts triple in size since Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

The study highlights the shortcomings of these platforms in effectively addressing the information war. Evidently, they struggled to curb hate speech, inadvertently promoting extremist content and even posing a threat to national security. In essence, they were far from being reliable superheroes in this regard.

And guess what? These tech giants were seemingly clueless when it came to dealing with coordinated campaigns. Russian interests were like a well-oiled machine, coordinating their efforts through volunteer channels and filing false claims to get pro-Ukraine accounts suspended. It's like they had a playbook for being super-villains.

But here's the kicker: In a surprising move, X's CEO Elon Musk made the decision to withdraw from the voluntary code of conduct for combating disinformation in June 2022. This strategic choice involved easing content rules, reducing enforcement staff, and eliminating state-affiliated media labels from Russian-controlled accounts. While some may question these changes, Musk undoubtedly has his reasons and believes it to be the best course of action for X's future success. It's pretty interesting how specific individuals or groups have chosen to invest in promoting their posts on the platform. It seems that propagandists are no exception and have taken advantage of these opportunities to gain more visibility.

So, what have we learned from this tangled web of digital deceit? It seems our tech heroes might need a few more lessons in spotting super-villains. While X and its fellow platforms play catch-up with the ever-evolving world of disinformation, the battle against Russian propaganda rages on. But don't worry, folks; we're all in this together. Just keep an eye on your newsfeed and watch out for those sneaky propagandists – they could be anywhere.


Read next: What Elon Musk's Latest Move Means for Your Data
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