Musk's X disabled feature for reporting electoral misinformation - researcher


FILE PHOTO: 'X' logo is seen on the top of the headquarters of the messaging platform X, formerly known as Twitter, in downtown San Francisco, California, U.S., July 30, 2023. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Elon Musk's X, formerly called Twitter, disabled a feature that let users report misinformation about elections, a research organisation said on Wednesday, throwing fresh concern about false claims spreading just before major U.S. and Australian votes.

After introducing a feature in 2022 for users to report a post they considered misleading about politics, X in the past week removed the "politics" category from its drop-down menu in every jurisdiction but the European Union, said the researcher Reset.Tech Australia.

Users could still report posts to X globally for a host of other complaints such as promoting violence or hate speech, the researcher added.

X was not immediately available for comment.

Removing a way for people to report suspected political misinformation may limit intervention at a time when social media platforms are under pressure to curtail falsehoods about electoral integrity, which have grown rapidly in recent years.

It comes less than three weeks before Australia holds a referendum, its first in a quarter century, on whether to change the constitution to establish an Indigenous advisory body to parliament and 14 months before a U.S. presidential election.

"It would be helpful to understand why X have seemingly gone backwards on their commitments to mitigating the kind of serious misinformation that has translated into real political instability in the US, especially on the eve of the 'bumper year' of elections globally," said Alice Dawkins, executive director of Reset.Tech Australia.

In a letter to X's managing director for Australia, Angus Keene, Reset.Tech Australia said the change may leave content that violates X's own policy banning electoral misinformation online without an appropriate review process.

"It is extremely concerning that Australians would lose the ability to report serious misinformation weeks away from a major referendum," said the letter which was published online.

Since billionaire Musk took Twitter, as it was then known, private in late 2022, the company, which cut most of its workforce, has been accused of allowing the proliferation of antisemitism, hate speech and misinformation.

As previously reported by Reuters, Reset.Tech Australia found X failed to remove or label a single post containing misinformation about the Australian referendum over a three-week period, including after it was reported using the now-disabled feature.

Musk has said X's "Community Notes" feature, which allows users to comment on posts to flag false or misleading content, is a better way of fact checking. But those notes are only made public when they are rated as helpful by a range of contributors with varying points of view, according to X's website.

Australia's internet safety regulator wrote to X in June demanding an explanation for an explosion in hate speech on the platform, noting it had reinstated some 62,000 high profile accounts of individuals who espouse Nazi rhetoric.

The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), which will oversee the Oct. 14 referendum, has said the spread of electoral misinformation is the worst it has seen.

The commission said it was still able to report posts containing political misinformation directly to X, even after the feature was disabled. For other users, the AEC was "available for people to ask questions or seek information".

(Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Sonali Paul)

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