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Musk’s X feeds monetization of wartime misinformation

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Influencers are seeking to profit off wartime misinformation on X.

Influencers are seeking to profit off wartime misinformation on X. – Copyright AFP/File Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV

Daniel Funke and Anuj Chopra

Influencers on X are monetizing misinformation about conflicts in the Middle East, leveraging the platform’s contentious policies that researchers say prioritize engagement over accuracy.

Since Elon Musk’s turbulent 2022 acquisition of X, formerly Twitter, the site has restored thousands of once-banned accounts and introduced a paid verification system that critics say has boosted conspiracy theorists.

X also rolled out an ad revenue-sharing program for verified users, who often peddle hateful and false information to profit from the platform.

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“Cynical pay-for-play controversialists today deliberately induce anger for engagement to game Musk’s platform into giving them more visibility, and therefore more revenue for their views,” Imran Ahmed, chief executive of the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), told AFP.

X has seen a tsunami of falsehoods about the ongoing war between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas, fueled partly by prominent US influencers such as Jackson Hinkle, who last month falsely claimed a video showed Iran bombing American military bases in Iraq.

The incendiary post came amid widespread concerns about a wider conflagration in the Middle East.

Using a reverse image search, AFP fact-checkers found the video actually depicted an attack in Iraq’s Kurdistan region.

In another provocative post debunked by AFP, Hinkle wrongly claimed that Yemen had declared “war with Israel” in support of the Palestinians.

While Yemen’s Huthi rebels have targeted Israel with missiles and drones, neither they nor the country’s internationally recognized government has formally declared war.

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– ‘Topsy-turvy’ –

In addition to raising tens of thousands of dollars on crowdfunding sites, Hinkle offers “premium content” to subscribers on X for $3 per month.

“Your support helps me continue exposing the Deep State after I was banned & demonetized by YouTube, Twitch, PayPal & Venmo,” his appeal says.

When reached by AFP, Hinkle — whose false posts have garnered millions of views — refused to say how much revenue he was generating on X, instead criticizing coverage of the wars in Ukraine and the Middle East.

Hinkle makes at least $3,000 a month from paid subscribers, according to a rough CCDH estimate based on the engagement data of his subscriber-only posts.

Last August, Hinkle disclosed on X that he also earned $1,693 through the ad revenue-sharing scheme, while complaining that other users with smaller engagement were getting bigger payouts.

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Britain-based creator Sulaiman Ahmed and Danish physician Anastasia Maria Loupis — both of whom AFP has repeatedly fact-checked for war-related misinformation — are also reaping the benefits of X’s verification and paid subscriber programs.

Neither responded to requests for comment.

CCDH’s Ahmed said Musk has “created a topsy-turvy platform on which authoritative sources struggle to be heard above the noise — while liars and hate actors are put on a pedestal, generating revenue for themselves and the platform.”

X did not respond to AFP’s request for comment.

– ‘Unrealistic’ –

To be eligible for ad revenue sharing, users must meet requirements such as subscribing to X’s $8 per month premium subscription and having at least 500 followers.

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Last year, Musk said posts with Community Notes — an X feature that allows users to refute claims and offer additional context — would be “ineligible for revenue share.”

“The idea is to maximize the incentive for accuracy over sensationalism,” Musk wrote on X.

But Jack Brewster, from the media watchdog NewsGuard, told AFP that “viral posts advancing misinformation frequently do not get flagged by Community Notes.”

In October, NewsGuard analyzed 250 of the most popular posts promoting one of 10 prominent false or unsubstantiated narratives about the Israel-Hamas war.

Only 32 percent of them had been flagged by a Community Note, it found.

The following month, NewsGuard identified ads from 86 major companies — including top brands, governments, and nonprofits — on viral posts advancing “false or egregiously misleading claims about the Israel-Hamas war.”

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That included an ad for the FBI on a post from Hinkle that falsely claimed a video showed an Israeli military helicopter firing on its own citizens.

The video actually showed Israeli war planes over Gaza, NewsGuard said, adding that the post — viewed nearly two million times — did not have a Community Note.

“Community Notes as currently structured is not a system that scales to cover all contexts,” Jacob Shapiro, a Princeton University professor who served on the program’s advisory group before Musk’s acquisition, told AFP.

“To expect volunteer labor alone to capture… deceptive content as a defense against allowing people to monetize that content reflects unrealistic expectations for what the tool can do.”

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Snapchat Explores New Messaging Retention Feature: A Game-Changer or Risky Move?

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Snapchat Explores New Messaging Retention Feature: A Game-Changer or Risky Move?

In a recent announcement, Snapchat revealed a groundbreaking update that challenges its traditional design ethos. The platform is experimenting with an option that allows users to defy the 24-hour auto-delete rule, a feature synonymous with Snapchat’s ephemeral messaging model.

The proposed change aims to introduce a “Never delete” option in messaging retention settings, aligning Snapchat more closely with conventional messaging apps. While this move may blur Snapchat’s distinctive selling point, Snap appears convinced of its necessity.

According to Snap, the decision stems from user feedback and a commitment to innovation based on user needs. The company aims to provide greater flexibility and control over conversations, catering to the preferences of its community.

Currently undergoing trials in select markets, the new feature empowers users to adjust retention settings on a conversation-by-conversation basis. Flexibility remains paramount, with participants able to modify settings within chats and receive in-chat notifications to ensure transparency.

Snapchat underscores that the default auto-delete feature will persist, reinforcing its design philosophy centered on ephemerality. However, with the app gaining traction as a primary messaging platform, the option offers users a means to preserve longer chat histories.

The update marks a pivotal moment for Snapchat, renowned for its disappearing message premise, especially popular among younger demographics. Retaining this focus has been pivotal to Snapchat’s identity, but the shift suggests a broader strategy aimed at diversifying its user base.

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This strategy may appeal particularly to older demographics, potentially extending Snapchat’s relevance as users age. By emulating features of conventional messaging platforms, Snapchat seeks to enhance its appeal and broaden its reach.

Yet, the introduction of message retention poses questions about Snapchat’s uniqueness. While addressing user demands, the risk of diluting Snapchat’s distinctiveness looms large.

As Snapchat ventures into uncharted territory, the outcome of this experiment remains uncertain. Will message retention propel Snapchat to new heights, or will it compromise the platform’s uniqueness?

Only time will tell.

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Catering to specific audience boosts your business, says accountant turned coach

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Catering to specific audience boosts your business, says accountant turned coach

While it is tempting to try to appeal to a broad audience, the founder of alcohol-free coaching service Just the Tonic, Sandra Parker, believes the best thing you can do for your business is focus on your niche. Here’s how she did just that.

When running a business, reaching out to as many clients as possible can be tempting. But it also risks making your marketing “too generic,” warns Sandra Parker, the founder of Just The Tonic Coaching.

“From the very start of my business, I knew exactly who I could help and who I couldn’t,” Parker told My Biggest Lessons.

Parker struggled with alcohol dependence as a young professional. Today, her business targets high-achieving individuals who face challenges similar to those she had early in her career.

“I understand their frustrations, I understand their fears, and I understand their coping mechanisms and the stories they’re telling themselves,” Parker said. “Because of that, I’m able to market very effectively, to speak in a language that they understand, and am able to reach them.” 

“I believe that it’s really important that you know exactly who your customer or your client is, and you target them, and you resist the temptation to make your marketing too generic to try and reach everyone,” she explained.

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“If you speak specifically to your target clients, you will reach them, and I believe that’s the way that you’re going to be more successful.

Watch the video for more of Sandra Parker’s biggest lessons.

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Instagram Tests Live-Stream Games to Enhance Engagement

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Instagram Tests Live-Stream Games to Enhance Engagement

Instagram’s testing out some new options to help spice up your live-streams in the app, with some live broadcasters now able to select a game that they can play with viewers in-stream.

As you can see in these example screens, posted by Ahmed Ghanem, some creators now have the option to play either “This or That”, a question and answer prompt that you can share with your viewers, or “Trivia”, to generate more engagement within your IG live-streams.

That could be a simple way to spark more conversation and interaction, which could then lead into further engagement opportunities from your live audience.

Meta’s been exploring more ways to make live-streaming a bigger consideration for IG creators, with a view to live-streams potentially catching on with more users.

That includes the gradual expansion of its “Stars” live-stream donation program, giving more creators in more regions a means to accept donations from live-stream viewers, while back in December, Instagram also added some new options to make it easier to go live using third-party tools via desktop PCs.

Live streaming has been a major shift in China, where shopping live-streams, in particular, have led to massive opportunities for streaming platforms. They haven’t caught on in the same way in Western regions, but as TikTok and YouTube look to push live-stream adoption, there is still a chance that they will become a much bigger element in future.

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Which is why IG is also trying to stay in touch, and add more ways for its creators to engage via streams. Live-stream games is another element within this, which could make this a better community-building, and potentially sales-driving option.

We’ve asked Instagram for more information on this test, and we’ll update this post if/when we hear back.

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