X heeds 24hr ultimatum to delete Hamas-affiliated accounts

Admire Moyo
By Admire Moyo, ITWeb's news editor.
Johannesburg, 12 Oct 2023
There is no place on X for terrorist organisations or violent extremist groups, it says.
There is no place on X for terrorist organisations or violent extremist groups, it says.

Social media platform X, formerly Twitter, has taken action to remove accounts belonging to Palestinian Islamic group Hamas after its attack on Israel on Saturday morning.

This, after Thierry Breton, European commissioner for the internal market, had given Elon Musk, who owns X, 24 hours to tackle disinformation regarding the conflict.

On Saturday, Hamas made an unprecedented attack on Israel, leading to over a thousand fatalities.

In retaliation, Israel started its offensive in Gaza, which also resulted in loss of lives. The attacks in the besieged enclave of Gaza are still ongoing.

At the time of writing, about 1 200 people from Israel had reportedly died, while 1 055 had met the same fate in Gaza.

“Following the terrorist attacks carried out by Hamas against Israel, we have indications that your platform is being used to disseminate illegal content and disinformation in the EU [European Union],” Breton said to Musk.

“Let me remind you that the Digital Services Act (DSA) sets very precise obligations regarding content moderation. First, you need to be very transparent and clear on what content is permitted under your terms, and consistently and diligently enforce your own policies.

“This is particularly relevant when it comes to violent and terrorist content that appears to circulate on your platform. Your latest changes in public interest policies that occurred overnight left many European users uncertain.

“Second, when you receive notices of illegal content in the EU, you must be timely, diligent and objective in taking action and removing the relevant content when warranted. We have, from qualified sources, reports about potentially illegal content circulating on your service despite flags from relevant authorities.

“Third, you need have in place proportionate and effective mitigation measures to tackle the risks to public security and civic discourse stemming from disinformation. Public media and civil society organisations widely report instances of fake and manipulated images and facts circulating on your platform in the EU, such as repurposed old images of unrelated armed conflicts or military footage that actually originated from video games. This appears to be manifestly false or misleading information.

“I, therefore, invite you to urgently ensure your systems are effective, and report on the crisis measures taken to my team. Given the urgency, I also expect you to be in contact with the relevant law enforcement authorities and Europol, and ensure you respond promptly to their requests.

“Moreover, on a number of other issues of DSA compliance that deserve immediate attention, my team will follow up shortly with a specific request.

“I urge you to ensure a prompt, accurate and complete response to this request within the next 24 hours. We will include your answer in our assessment file on your compliance with the DSA. I remind you that following the opening of a potential investigation and a finding of non-compliance, penalties can be imposed.”

Responding to Breton, Linda Yaccarino, CEO of X, says the social media platform is “deeply troubled by the large-scale and unprecedented terrorist attack on Israel and by the loss of innocent lives.

“In accordance with your request to respond in 24 hours, this is a high-level summary of our work, noting we are actively working to address the operational needs of this fast-moving and evolving conflict.”

According to Yaccarino, X is committed to serving the public conversation, especially in critical moments like this, and understands the importance of addressing any illegal content that may be disseminated through the platform.

She adds there is no place on X for terrorist organisations or violent extremist groups, and the firm will continue to remove such accounts in real-time, including proactive efforts.

“Since the terrorist attack on Israel, we have taken action to remove or label tens of thousands of pieces of content, while Community Notes are visible on thousands of posts, generating millions of impressions.

“We continue to respond promptly to law enforcement requests from around the world, including EU member states. At the time of receipt of your letter, we had not received any notices from Europol relating to illegal content on the service,” Yaccarino notes.