How PEPT judgement, Niger and Gabon coups fuel misinformation on X

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THE just concluded Nigeria’s presidential election petition tribunal (PEPT) alongside the coups in Niger and Gabon have attracted audiences from different parts of the world.

There have been a series of analyses on social media, especially on X (formerly Twitter), and a large number of these hot takes are often riddled with fake news and misinformation.

The FactCheckHub had earlier published a report on how ‘Blue Check’ verified accounts spread misinformation on the X app.

As the report stated, X had initially created its verification system to boost users’ confidence in the platform by placing a blue check-mark next to the names of public figures, companies, journalists, and organisations; but this changed after Elon Musk acquired the company.

Currently, the blue check-mark can be obtained by a Nigerian user by paying a monthly fee of $7.99. This move is part of Musk’s effort to increase the company’s revenue, which he acquired for $44 billion. However, the blue check-mark has become a tool for peddlers of misinformation to appear trustworthy and legitimate.

Most false information shared by the accounts bothered on the COVID-19 vaccine and the Russia-Ukraine war, among others. False information has now intensified and taken a new turn since Musk introduced ad revenue payment for subscribers of the ‘Blue Check’ mark.

The platform in August announced that users who subscribe to Twitter Blue can access new features and apply to enable subscriptions on their account and earn income directly on X by tapping on monetisation in settings to apply.

The recent feature helps creators get a share of Twitter’s revenue from the sponsored posts appearing under their tweets. It mainly allows verified creators to access a share of the revenue generated by advertisements displayed within the comments section of their posts.

The ICIR reported that while the exact methodology for calculating reimbursements and the portion retained by X remains unclear, it is a requirement for accounts to have accrued a minimum of 5 million impressions on their tweets within the preceding three months in order to qualify for participation. This criterion ensures that eligible creators have achieved a certain level of engagement and exposure before being able to participate in the revenue-sharing arrangement.

This has enabled creators to spread and amplify misinformation, disinformation and explicit content indiscriminately on the platform.

The coups in Niger and Gabon have been the focus of these fake news peddlers since July 2023. Some of them can be seen here, here and here (now archived here, here and here respectively). Several misleading posts were also spread about Nigeria’s presidential election petition court who delivered its final judgement on Wednesday, September 6, 2023, amongst others.

On August 21, 2023, an X user, @AjeboDanny, made a post on the app listing important things for users to know before they begin earning from X. In the post, he emphasized that quality engagements are what acquire users’ revenue payment. In his words:

‘If you’re looking to start earning from X, you should know a few things. A lot of things make up for your X Ad revenue, it’s not just by impressions as wildly misunderstood. Impressions are needed to be eligible but not for payouts So things like giveaways, rt4rt or follow trains might get you impressions but they won’t get you a revenue. Advertisers are not stupid lol Quality Engagements are what gets you revenue and by quality engagements i mean comments and replies to comments and also the quality of the commenters too.’

He added that spreading information disorder on the app won’t count as part of the revenue subscribers would get.

And You won’t get a revenue on a post by posting fake news, propaganda or nudity, gather all the impressions you want, that particular post is not going to count. So you can put on your clothes now dear because nothing for you.’

https://twitter.com/AjeboDanny/status/1693500455534424401?s=20

Silas Jonathan, a fact-checker and researcher at Dubawa stated that the Ads revenue payment for blue tick subscribers is an advantage for misinformation to thrive on the app.

“The advertisement payment for blue tick subscribers on the X platform can indeed contribute to information disorder on the platform. Firstly, the age-old tendency for falsehoods to garner more attention than the truth can influence these subscribers to share unverified information simply to acquire new followers or generate traction. With a price tag attached to gaining the most attention, almost anyone is willing to do whatever it takes,” he stated.

Jonathan added that information on X is now disseminated not based on the foundational concept of truth, but rather for monetary incentives and potential income.

“Given that visual content maintains consumer interest for extended periods, videos are given heightened importance in income generation. On X, these subscribers may share visuals that can harm individuals’ reputations. Recently, there has been an increase in the circulation of sexually explicit videos featuring well-known personalities. The motivation behind this remains consistent: sharing such content in pursuit of attention,” he added.

Ibrahim Alawode, another fact-checker with Twentyten Daily emphasized that since when payment for blue-tick ensued, the platform was no longer safe from misinformation.

“From the time the platform prioritized those who can pay for blue tick over the original verified tick it issued, it was obvious it’s no longer safe and will be an haven for misinformation. At the moment, people with large followership are interested in monetization of their account and will do anything to achieve that,” he told The FactCheckHub.

 

How misinformation post is determined by X

As part of its effort to address misinformation, X labels posts that are misleading to give readers a notice and/or share additional context with them. This is done and is subject to reduced visibility, and labels are visible in all X-supported languages.

Another effort is notifying readers when they try to share a post that was labelled for violating its policies, a prompt to help individuals find additional context and consider whether or not to amplify the post to followers.

There are also community notes where participants can write a note with additional information, to provide public context to the community on a post they feel is misleading; this is only available in limited testing to some people in the US.

Alawode stated that for the community notes to be effective, X would need to partner with fact-checkers and fact-checking organisations.

“Although X has an open algorithm called community notes which is meant to crawl the platform and gather potential fake news but the community notes have been heavily criticised by fact-checkers as a vehicle of fake news itself. For the community notes to work successfully, X (formerly Twitter) will need to work with independent media, fact-checkers and fact-checking organisations rather than ordinary registered users on the platform,” he added.

A check on the accounts that were mentioned earlier shows that their misinformation posts were not labelled for violating X policies and there was no prompt to stop readers from amplifying the post.

Also, contrary to what @AjeboDanny stated, Ads are posted in the comments section of these accounts that spread misinformation thereby making them eligible for Ads revenue payment.

Although the micro-blogging site has put a lot of checks in place, the revenue generating policy that rewards engagements is a major threat to the fight against fake news, misinformation and disinformation. It is also a major setback for all the work of several disinformation experts in the last half of the decade.

Fact - Check Intern at ICIR | [email protected] | + posts

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