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HomeTechElon Musk's X Restricts Access to Report of Alleged Russian War Crime

Elon Musk’s X Restricts Access to Report of Alleged Russian War Crime



Matthew Gault

On July 8, a Russian Kh-101 cruise missile hit a children’s hospital in Kyiv, killing at three least three kids and injuring 16 others. Anyone on X attempting to click a link that would take them to a comprehensive article detailing all the proof that Russia had, in fact, launched the child-killing cruise missile was met with a strange message.

“The link you are trying to access has been identified by X or our partners as being potentially spammy or unsafe, in accordance with X’s URL Policy,” the message said.

The story about the missile was written by Bellingcat, a site that publishes open-source investigations into war zones across the world. The decade-old site has built a reputation for being a reliable source of information about war, disinformation, and extremist movements across the planet. Its work has been cited in Human Rights Courts and has been instrumental in the prosecution of war crimes.

X owner Elon Musk has long believed that Bellingcat is a PsyOp and throttled the reach of the site on X after it reported about the Neo-Nazi associations of a mass shooter in 2023. “Didn’t the story come from Bellingcat, which literally specializes in psychological operations?” Musk said in a post on X at the time. “I don’t want to hurt their feelings, but this is either the weirdest story ever or a very bad psyop!” He repeated his assertion that Bellingcat was a PsyOp in an interview with CNBC.

After the Russian missile strike on the hospital, pro-Russian accounts flooded social media claiming that video evidence proved the missile was, in fact, American. It wasn’t. People took startlingly clear pictures of the missile moments before impact and experts quickly identified it as a Kh-101. Bellingcat sifted through the evidence and detailed much of it in its report.

Bellingcat has fought with Musk before, but this is the first time they’ve had access to something on their site actively restricted by X.

 

Musk, who has claimed in the past he’s a free speech absolutist, has long warred with accounts on X he finds personally disagreeable. The most famous fight is probably the one against Jack Sweeney, a college student who used public flight records to track the location of rich people’s private jets in real-time.

According to Bellingcat, it’s filed two reports with X through official channels about the mislabeling of its Kh-101 story but has yet to hear anything back. “We received automated emails back when we submitted the forms confirming our case number but nothing else. The response suggests that we won’t get a response to our individual report, despite being the form to report issues,” Charlotte Maher, Bellingcat’s Social Media Editor, told Gizmodo in an email.

Maher pointed out that Bellingcat regularly posts links with information about other conflicts that aren’t flagged by X. “For example our recent coverage of Gaza received no such block,” she said. “Another example from our recent coverage of violence in Myanmar.”

“Busy now, please check back later,” an automated message from X said in response to an email Gizmodo sent for comment on the story.

When X was Twitter it was a place where open-source investigators mingled with policy makers and other government officials. It wasn’t perfect, but Maher said that it’s gotten worse since Musk took over.

“The ever-changing nature of X policies has made planning content and strategizing for impact on the platform more difficult,” she said. “It was a prime audience space for us, and one of the platforms most used by the open-source research community for collaborations and investigations. However over the last few years, as other organizations have also done, we’ve concentrated efforts on fostering communities on alternative platforms as well so we can ensure that our collaborative approach can continue, despite platform changes.”

UPDATE 7/10/24 at 4:06pm: After this story was published, X removed the redirect on the Bellingcat story. The warning message on the linked article has now been removed, you should be able to click straight through to the investigation. We have not received any explanation from X as to why it was categorized as malicious on the platform,” Bellingcat said on X.





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