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Former X Staffer Warns of Rising Fake News Crisis on Social Media

Wesam Abo Marq Wesam Abo Marq
14th June 2024
Former X Staffer Warns of Rising Fake News Crisis on Social Media
Marc Burrows warned from misinformation crisis on Social Media (X)

Distinguishing between truth and lies on social media is set to be one of the greatest challenges of our era. This issue has significant real-world consequences. As AI and deep-fake technology become more advanced and widely available, the situation is likely to deteriorate. Former X staffer Marc Burrows affirms that people cannot afford to ignore the importance of curbing misinformation.

Ex-X Staffer Marc Burrows Warns from Misinformation Crisis on Social Media

In an article published by The Independent, titled "Fake news on social media is the crisis we’re all ignoring – trust me, I worked for Twitter," former Twitter (now X) staffer Marc Burrows warns about the pervasive spread of misinformation and its real-world impacts. With billions of people around the world going to the polls this year, ensuring that voters have access to verified, accurate information is critical. We cannot afford to disregard the importance of curbing falsehoods, writes Burrows.

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A screenshot of the Independent’s article.

During the time before Elon Musk’s takeover and the rebranding to “X,” Twitter took the threat of misinformation very seriously. Former Twitter staffers, like Marc Burrows, who worked on the curation team during multiple elections in the UK and the U.S., as well as through the first two years of the pandemic, witnessed firsthand how quickly false information spreads and how challenging it is to contain once it starts.

Burrows' Team Collaboration with Reuters and the Associated Press 

During Marc Burrows' tenure at Twitter, the team worked with Reuters and the Associated Press to debunk rapidly growing unreliable stories, coining the term “pre-bunk” to identify likely misinformation before it spread. Misleading posts were labeled once they reached a certain influence threshold.

Recognizing Twitter's significant impact on the news agenda and public conversation, the team understood the mission's critical importance. This influence partly explains Elon Musk's deep investment in the platform.

However, the curation team, which played a vital role in these efforts, was among the first to be cut under Musk's new regime. In the initial weeks of his takeover, he dismantled years of work, significantly reducing or eliminating departments focused on misinformation and community moderation, disbanding the Trust and Safety team, and unbanning accounts previously sanctioned for spreading harmful lies.

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A screenshot of the AP’s article.

Among the most controversial actions taken by Elon Musk was restoring the account of Donald Trump after a poll he posted on the platform narrowly favored the former president’s return. Trump had been banned following the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. 

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A screenshot of the Washington Post’s article.

Musk also reinstated several other controversial users, including conservative Canadian podcaster Jordan Peterson, right-leaning satire website Babylon Bee, comedian Kathy Griffin, and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who had previously been banned or suspended.

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A screenshot of the CNN’s article.

EU: X Is the Social Media Platform With the Highest Disinformation Rate

The EU has identified X as the social media platform with the highest disinformation rate. Miah Hammond-Errey, director of the Emerging Technology Program at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, remarked last year: “Few recent actions have done more to make a social media platform safe for disinformation, extremism, and authoritarian regime propaganda than the changes to Twitter since its purchase by Elon Musk.”

The services Musk cut are now needed more than ever as people tend to share shocking or gossipy information, as lies are usually more intriguing than the mundane truth. A 2018 MIT study revealed that false stories are 70 percent more likely to be shared and reach a wide audience six times faster than real ones. This phenomenon is familiar to many, as all people witness fake news spreading rapidly. From relatives sharing easily disproved infographics about vaccines or the environmental impact of electric vehicles on Facebook to seeing the same misinformation circulate repeatedly across social networks.

AI Fake News Surge Undermines Combating Misinformation

False information online is a serious and escalating problem. For instance, OpenAI’s Sora app, set to launch later this year, will allow users to manipulate video to add elements or change locations, creating seamless proof of virtually anything they desire. With video-based platforms like TikTok being key election battlegrounds this year, the potential for amplifying fake news is alarming.

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A screenshot of the Washington Post’s article.

Social networks are attempting to combat this issue to varying degrees of success. Features like X’s Community Notes are a start, but they fall short compared to what the platform previously offered. Fact-checking by reputable journalistic sources is also beneficial.

Burrows concluded that everyone needs to contribute to this effort. Report obvious misinformation, think before sharing, check sources, and take this issue seriously. The truth is out there, but so are the lies.

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