Artificial Intelligence

Elon Musk’s favorite Twitter feature is being weaponized by white supremacists

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The Chief Twit’s favorite Twitter feature might now be the site’s Achilles’ heel.

Since Elon Musk has taken over Twitter, he has frequently promoted the platform’s Community Notes feature. Formerly known as Birdwatch and first launched in Jan. 2021, Community Notes allow users without policy violations who are accepted into the program to embed context on other users’ tweets. In the past, the feature — which existed well before Musk — was used to debunk viral disinformation concerning election fraud or COVID-19 vaccine safety.

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Now, just a little over a month into Musk’s reign, Community Notes are being used to spread antisemitic content.

On Thursday, controversial rapper Kanye West appeared on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ Infowars program, along with Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes, as part of his media tour to promote a supposed upcoming 2024 presidential run. During the now-infamous appearance, West proclaimed his “love” for Nazis and admiration for Adolf Hitler. 

At the time of the show’s taping, West was the only one on Jones’ show who did not have a banned account on Twitter’s platform. To skirt those bans, West passed his smartphone around to Jones, Fuentes, and panelist Ali Alexander so each of them could tweet using his account.

The tweets posted to West’s account by the group of far-right conspiracy theorists were fairly trivial. Jones, Fuentes, and Alexander basically put out calls to Musk to stand for “free speech” and unban their accounts.

Alex Jones’ tweet from Kanye West’s account with a Community Note promoting a banned link. (Mashable has edited out the link address.)
Credit: Mashable Screenshot

Yet, those tweets from West’s account were the only ones to have Community Notes added. Embedded on these tweets were notes from users — users who were accepted by Twitter into the Community Notes program — denoting which of the three extremists posted them along with a link to Alex Jones’ Banned Video website.

Ali Alexander’s tweet from Kanye West’s account with a Community Note promoting a banned link. (Mashable has edited out the link address.)
Credit: Mashable Screenshot

Nick Fuentes’ tweet from Kanye West’s account with a Community Note promoting a banned link. (Mashable has edited out the link address.)
Credit: Mashable Screenshot

West, whose account was banned by Musk shortly thereafter for promoting antisemitic imagery and “inciting violence,” never actually tweeted out a link to his Alex Jones interview. In fact, the Banned Video website is banned on Twitter and users are unable to even post a tweet linking to the website. Yet, these Community Notes were able to act as a workaround, directly linking to and promoting Jones’ website featuring West’s antisemitic interview. And that link was embedded on multiple tweets posted by West’s account as they went viral with hundreds of thousands of likes and millions of views.

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In this instance, the inclusion of Community Notes was unnecessary as there was no debunking of any content contained within West’s tweets. If these notes had been required, users could have linked to reputable news sources describing the events that unfolded. The notes for each of these tweets, however, were clearly copy and pasted verbatim by the same user(s) attempting to game Twitter’s moderation system.

It’s evident the Community Notes feature was being abused as a workaround specifically to share these banned links to West’s interview. And it worked. Those Community Notes stayed active on West’s tweets as the posts continued to go viral. They were never removed, regardless of the fact that other users are able to “rate” Community Notes and remove ones that don’t actually add any real context. Only when West’s entire account was banned from the platform were the Community Notes linking out to Jones’ show no longer viewable. 

Since Musk acquired Twitter in late October, he has continuously sought input from prominent right-wing users regarding the direction of the platform. Musk has recently reinstated numerous formerly banned controversial figures on the right, such as Donald Trump, while also suspending a number of left-wing users, like researcher Chad Loder who frequently reports on the far-right.

Longtime Community Notes members have also reported a change in the program since Musk took over, noting the feature has been utilized more often by right-wing users. Musk has laid off key Twitter employees involved in the program, leaving the feature unchecked even as he continues to promote it.

“Since [Musk] took over, we don’t have a moderator anymore,” one Community Notes user told the Washington Post in the weeks after Musk acquired the company.

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