Since Musk took control of the platform just under a year ago, he has restructured it to encourage engagement over everything else. As a result, accounts that subscribe to X Premium now have a monetary incentive to post content that is engaging regardless of how truthful it is. This was highlighted clearly on Monday night when, at the same time as the Safety team posted its update, a new viral piece of disinformation was spreading unchecked on X.
Sulaiman Ahmed, a self-described investigative journalist, posted the false claim that the Church of Saint Porphyrius in Gaza City, one of the oldest churches in the world, was destroyed by an Israeli bomb. The post received over 1 million views in the space of three hours.
Ahmed is a subscriber to X Premium, which means that his posts are given priority in search results and news feeds over other users and he also allows followers to subscribe to his content directly through X, allowing him to profit from increased engagement with his content.
On Monday evening, the church posted an update on Facebook dismissing the claim, adding that it was taking in refugees left homeless following Israel’s bombing campaign in retaliation to the Hamas terror attack that began on Saturday morning.
Despite the church’s rebuttal—and Ahmed himself subsequently admitting the church was untouched—the disinformation spread far and wide on X. WIRED conducted a search for the “Saint Porphyrius Orthodox Church” on X on Tuesday morning and found that Ahmed’s original false post was the third result. Multiple other posts from verified users all repeating the lie were also promoted at the top of the results, none of which had Community Notes attached to them.
Eliot Higgins, founder of investigative journalist outlet Bellingcat, pointed out that the false information was being shared by a wide variety of accounts, all of which had one thing in common: a subscription to X Premium.
“If Musk hadn’t made it so hard to research disinformation on his website, this case would be a good way to show the growing overlap of the pro-Assad, the pro-Putin, and the US alt-right griftospheres,” Higgins wrote on X, adding: “Musk hasn’t given the voiceless a voice, he’s just dragged us all down into the swamp, and the only people who truly benefit are shameless grifters.”