Israel-Hamas war: Tech platforms under scrutiny over spread of false, graphic posts


(NEW YORK) — As war broke out in recent days with a Hamas attack and an Israeli response that has left an estimated more than 4,100 people dead in Israel and Gaza, gruesome images and disinformation spread widely on major social media platforms.

From repurposed video game footage masquerading as videos showing military engagements to imposter accounts spreading false information about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to violent and graphic footage flooding newsfeeds — the fast-moving conflict and the volume of such posts have posed a challenge for social media platforms as they attempt to enforce rules against false or violent content.

False or horrifically graphic posts have spread across X and Meta-owned Instagram and Facebook, as well as TikTok.

European Union Commissioner Thierry Breton wrote public letters to TikTok, X and Meta in recent days warning them of the indication that their respective platforms had been used for the spread of “illegal content” in violation of the EU’s data regulations around hate speech and disinformation. Financial penalties could result from the possible offenses, Breton added.

In a post on X, on Monday, the company said it had paid close attention to the outpouring of content on the platform related to the Israel-Hamas war.

There had been over 50 million posts globally on the Hamas attack on Israel in the two days after the attack began on Oct. 7, X said.

“As the events continue to unfold rapidly, a cross-company leadership group has assessed this moment as a crisis requiring the highest level of response,” the company said. “This means we’re laser focused and dedicated to protecting the conversation on X and enforcing our rules as we continue to assess the situation on the platform.”

In response to the letter from Breton, X CEO Linda Yaccarino said on Wednesday that the company had labeled or removed tens of thousands of pieces of content related to the Israel-Hamas war. “We continue to respond promptly to law enforcement requests from around the world,” Yaccarino added.

In response to a request for comment from ABC News, Meta pointed to a statement released by a company spokesperson after receipt of the letter from Breton: “Our teams are working around the clock to keep our platforms safe, take action on content that violates our policies or local law, and coordinate with third-party fact checkers in the region to limit the spread of misinformation. We’ll continue this work as this conflict unfolds.”

In a blog post on Friday, Meta said it had removed or marked as disturbing more than 795,000 pieces of content in Hebrew and Arabic for violating its content moderation policies over a three-day period following the Hamas attack last Saturday.

Responding to ABC News’ request for comment, a TikTok spokesperson said the company uses automated tools as well as 40,000 content moderators in order to police posts on the platform. In response to the outbreak of war between Israel and Hamas, the company has increased the content moderation resources that it devotes to related posts as well as posts in Hebrew and Arabic, the spokesperson added.

Each of the platforms — X, Meta and TikTok — has a policy banning accounts tied to Hamas, since the group has been labeled a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. government.

Under an EU law called the Digital Services Act, or DSA, social media platforms are required to combat misinformation. Fines resulting from violations of the law can total up to 6% of each company’s global revenue.

On Thursday, the EU took an additional step toward enforcement against X, opening an investigation of the alleged spread of illegal content and making a formal request for information from the company. The EU called on X to provide the relevant information no later than next Wednesday.

The order follows indications of “the alleged spreading of illegal content and disinformation, in particular the spreading of terrorist and violent content and hate speech,” Breton said.

X did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment about the investigation, nor has the company responded publicly to it.


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