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Here's how Telegram videos that circulate on X make separating fact from fiction a nightmare for Elon Musk

Hasan Chowdhury   

Here's how Telegram videos that circulate on X make separating fact from fiction a nightmare for Elon Musk
  • Elon Musk's X has struggled to contain false information about the Israel-Gaza conflict.
  • Part of the issue is the spread of unverified videos and content that were first posted on Telegram.

It has never felt this difficult to separate fact from fiction on Elon Musk's X.

Disinformation around the newly reignited Israel-Gaza conflict seems to have spread like wildfire on the social-media platform formerly known as Twitter in recent days.

You don't need to look far to find a scene from a war three years ago that's being presented as fresh footage in Israel, or a video game clip of airstrikes that aims to deceive users that it's a real-world development in the Middle East.

One explanation for why X is having such a hard time verifying the facts in the midst of deadly fighting has to do with a very different social platform: Telegram.

Telegram is an instant-messaging service that was launched a decade ago in 2013 by Russian-born billionaire Pavel Durov, who has come to be known as the "Zuckerberg of Russia."

It is a lot more than that, however.

Telegram is the home to several "channels," which allow users to broadcast messages to a wide audience publicly. It has been a key tool used by different sides involved in battles to share videos, statements, and more. Hamas uses it; so too does the Israel Defense Forces.

The fighting between Israel and Hamas isn't, of course, the first instance of a conflict to be followed via Telegram. The app has been a window into the Ukraine-Russia war for many. It has been a fixation for those seeking to keep tabs on Syria's civil war, too.

Though Telegram has often proven to be a source of accurate, first-hand information for those seeking to understand what is really happening on the ground of a conflict, the opposite is also true.

Durov has been known to prefer an offhand approach to overseeing content-sharing on the app. This can be linked to the spread of false information on Telegram.

Here's where the problems start to emerge for Musk, too.

Videos and details about an ongoing conflict often make their way to a platform like X from Telegram — and do so without their source being identified or verified. X users will share Telegram videos, often without context, to fit their narrative or suit some other ulterior motive.

Eliot Higgins, founder of online investigations platform Bellingcat, has pointed out how dangerous of an issue this can be.

In a series of posts on X on Wednesday, Higgins called out some open-source investigators for "posting videos, images, and claims without sharing the original sources" in the midst of a current discussion on "the spread of disinformation and misinformation on Twitter."

"What I'm seeing more and more are some 'OSINT' accounts just taking content from Telegram and reposting it, which isn't so awful in itself, but failing to link to the original source is the antithesis of what open source investigation is about," Higgins wrote.

He added that the Telegram channel "South First Responders," is a particularly prominent source of content shared without a link on X, making it difficult for others to cross-check, verify, and authenticate the sources.

"If your goal is just to self-promote using content you've stolen from other people without linking back to the original content and giving credit, then that might impress Elon Musk, but that doesn't impress me, and I hope you get called out for it," Higgins said.

This problem has been exacerbated on X, in particular, after content moderation teams were booted out of the company as part of drastic layoffs driven by Musk.

Expect it to continue as the battle Israel-Gaza conflict threatens to rage on.

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