Misinformation on X: Why It’s Time to Reassess Section 230

By Tina Mulqueen Tina Mulqueen has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team
Published on October 11, 2023

The Israel-Hamas war is the latest tragedy to demonstrate the immense power social media platforms wield in shaping public perception. At the epicenter of this revelation today is X, previously known as Twitter, grappling with an unprecedented influx of misinformation, violent speech, and graphic content. However, the tumultuous waters X is navigating, intensified by decisions made under billionaire Elon Musk’s ownership, underpin a larger debate: Is it time to amend Section 230?

Misinformation in Real-time

The veracity of information on X has been called into question. European Commissioner Thierry Breton’s recent letter to Musk pointed out misleading posts on the platform, including repurposed images from unrelated conflicts and video game footage presented as real-time war updates. This underscores the platform’s struggle to validate the accuracy of information being shared rapidly among millions.

The Role of Platform Owners

The problem has been further exacerbated by Elon Musk’s actions. One significant incident involves Musk recommending certain accounts for “following the war in real-time.” Experts and users were quick to highlight that some of these accounts had previously disseminated fake imagery and hate speech. While Musk retracted his endorsement, the incident shines a light on the platform’s vulnerabilities and the responsibility of high-profile influencers.

It’s worth noting, of course, that Musk’s X isn’t the only platform to contend with these issues. Meta and YouTube have also been under fire in recent years for the proliferation of misinformation, including the infamous Cambridge Analytica disinformation scheme on Facebook that aimed to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election in the United States.

A Stripped-Down Moderation System

Perhaps the most glaring change under Musk’s stewardship has been the gutting of the platform’s workforce, especially the content moderation team. Theodora Skeadas, a former member of Twitter’s public policy team, expressed concerns about the platform’s reduced capacity to monitor and act against policy violations. The need for human intervention in moderating sensitive content, despite AI advancements, remains paramount, at least for now.

Elevated User Control

A notable feature under Musk’s X era is allowing users to rate potential misinformation. While this democratizes content moderation to some extent, it also opens the door for biases and subjective judgments. Additionally, X’s recent decision to let users opt whether or not to view sensitive media, without taking down such posts, further underscores the platform’s hands-off approach.

Time to Reassess Section 230

Section 230 has long protected online platforms from liability for user-generated content. However, with platforms like X struggling to handle the deluge of misinformation and the potential societal impacts, the debate around amending this law grows stronger. 

Big Tech rebuttals for amending the legislation involve reasoned arguments that platforms should not be held accountable for content generated by users. However, a recent Supreme Court case, Gonzalez v. Google, rightly points out that when platforms algorithmically distribute the content they should be beholden to new restrictions, particularly since algorithmic distribution is skewed toward content that’s monetizable under ad-supported business models. Put another way, when tech platforms gain from disseminating misinformation, we need to reevaluate the incentives and constraints on the system.

Holding platforms accountable for the content they host, especially in the face of real-world consequences, might encourage a more responsible approach to content moderation, or ensure the implementation of tech solutions. The intent isn’t to stifle free speech but to ensure that digital spaces don’t become breeding grounds for misinformation, especially during times of political unrest and election cycles.

The unfolding events on X related to the Israel-Hamas war serve as a stark reminder of the digital age’s challenges. As we continue to grapple with these issues, revisiting and updating laws like Section 230 becomes not just a matter of legal importance but also a moral imperative, essential to reestablishing a trusted media ecosystem. Our democracy depends on it.

By Tina Mulqueen Tina Mulqueen has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team

Tina is a Staff Writer at Grit Daily. Based in Washington, she speaks and writes regularly on sustainable marketing and entrepreneurship practices. She’s carved out a niche in digital media and entertainment, working with brands as CBS, Vanity Fair, Digital Trends and Marie Claire; and at such events as The Academy Awards, the Billboard Music Awards, the Emmy's, and the BAFTAs. Her writing has been featured in a regular column on Forbes, Thrive Global, Huffington Post, Elite Daily and various other outlets. For her work, she’s been recognized in Entrepreneur, Adweek, and more. Tina also founded a non-profit, Cause Influence, to expand the reach of important social causes. Under her non-profit, she takes on pro bono clients with an emphasis on equality and representation. She also founded and manages a media company called Et al. Meaning “and others,” Et al.’s mission is telling the stories of underrepresented individuals and communities.

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