Democrats accuse X of profiting from Hamas propaganda

This photo illustration shows the X logo (formerly Twitter) on a smartphone screen in Los Angeles, California, on July 31, 2023. San Francisco sent the company formerly known as Twitter a warning on July 31, 2023, that it needed proper permits for the giant, flashing new X sign atop its headquarters, after the tech firm twice refused to let building inspectors check it. (Photo by Chris Delmas / AFP) (Photo by CHRIS DELMAS/AFP via Getty Images)

In this photo illustration, the X logo is shown on a smartphone screen in Los Angeles, California, on July 31, 2023.Chris Delmas/AFP/Getty ImagesWashingtonCNN — 

A group of House Democrats has accused X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, of profiting from Hamas propaganda and misinformation about the Israel-Hamas war after reports by independent researchers found numerous accounts glorifying the US-sanctioned terror group.

More than two dozen US lawmakers signed the letter dated Tuesday addressed to X owner Elon Musk and CEO Linda Yaccarino.

Citing analyses by groups including the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, NewsGuard and the Tech Transparency Project, Tuesday’s letter said lawmakers were “outraged by the clear indicators that X is profiting from the spread of Hamas’s terrorist propaganda — both through monthly subscription fees collected from some propaganda spreaders, and through ads displayed in replies to posts by both Premium and regular accounts.”

One of the reports in question, published last month, claimed to have identified examples of paid X subscribers sharing videos bearing Hamas iconography and depicting violent or gruesome images. Another report claimed to have identified dozens of paid X subscriber accounts promoting “false or unsubstantiated narratives relating to the war” and that posts spreading the misinformation had been viewed at least 100 million times globally.

“Given X’s major cuts to content moderation staff over the last year, it appears that X has willfully permitted, and benefited from, the illegal spread of terrorist propaganda,” wrote the group, led by Reps. Adam Schiff of California, Daniel Goldman of New York and Jamie Raskin of Maryland. “Such behavior from one of the world’s most widely used social media platforms is wholly unacceptable.”

X didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about the lawmakers’ accusations.

A new report released by NewsGuard on Wednesday claimed that ads for 86 major advertisers, including Pizza Hut, Airbnb and Microsoft, were shown on viral posts that pushed false or misleading claims about the Israel-Hamas war. The posts were seen by a total of 92 million users on X, according to NewsGuard.

X released a statement in advance of the NewsGuard report’s publication, calling its findings into question. X could not be reached for further comment Wednesday evening.

On Tuesday, Musk abruptly announced that X would be donating “all revenue from advertising & subscriptions associated with the war in Gaza to hospitals in Israel and the Red Cross/Crescent in Gaza.” But it was unclear what content he was referring to and whether the announcement was directly related to the lawmakers’ letter. X Head of Business Operations Joe Benarroch declined to clarify the company’s plans beyond saying the donation would be “a sizeable amount.”

The pressure from House Democrats comes amid a wider blowback to X over extremist content on the platform, in some cases amplified directly by Musk himself. In recent days, X has suffered a notable exodus of high-profile advertisers following Musk’s public embrace of an antisemitic conspiracy theory popular with White supremacists and a report by Media Matters, the progressive media watchdog group, that said major brands’ advertisements appeared beside pro-Nazi content.

Musk sued Media Matters on Monday, accusing it of distorting the likelihood that ads may be shown against extremist material. But some legal critics have cast doubt on the complaint, calling it “weak” and “bogus” in the face of the First Amendment.

Tuesday’s letter also highlights the mounting public scrutiny of Yaccarino, who until now has sought to position herself as a cheery counterweight to Musk’s flirtation with far-right extremism. The letter calls for Yaccarino and Musk to answer by December 1 to allegations that X has amplified terrorist propaganda in violation of its own policies.

It comes a day after the Senate Judiciary Committee said it had enlisted the US Marshals Service, in a rare move, to serve Yaccarino with a subpoena personally, compelling her to testify at a December 6 hearing on children’s online safety. In a release, the committee said it was forced to take that extraordinary measure after X declined to accept the subpoena on Yaccarino’s behalf, in a “remarkable departure from typical practice.”

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