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Terrorists Are Paying for Check Marks on X, Report Says| GuyWhoKnowsThings


X, the social media platform owned by Elon Musk, is potentially violating US sanctions by accepting payments for subscription accounts from terrorist organizations and other groups that are prohibited from doing business in the country, according to a new report.

The report, for the Technological Transparency Project, a nonprofit focused on accountability for big tech companies, shows that X, formerly known as Twitter, has received payments from accounts including Hezbollah leaders, Houthi groups and state media outlets in Iran and Russia. Subscriptions, which cost $8 a month, offer users a blue check mark (previously limited to verified users like celebrities) and better promotion through the X algorithm, among other benefits.

The US Treasury Department maintains a list of entities that have been targeted by sanctions, and while X's official terms of service prohibit individuals and organizations on the list from making payments on the platform, the report found 28 accounts that had the blue check mark.

“We were surprised to find that “It's yet another sign that X has lost control of its platform.”

X and Musk did not respond to a request for comment. Musk has said that he wants X to be a haven for free speech and that he will only remove illegal content.

Since Musk's acquisition of Twitter in 2022, the company has made drastic changes to the way it does business; in some cases, it has shunned advertising in favor of subscription dollars. It also restored thousands of banned accounts and revoked the rules that once governed the site.

Musk also eliminated Twitter's verification policy, in which staff members vetted politicians, celebrities, journalists and others, giving them a blue tick to prove they were real. Instead, people now pay for those badges, and popular paid accounts are eligible to receive a share of the revenue from ads displayed next to their posts. Subscriptions for organizations cost $1,000 per month, a tier that comes with additional benefits and a gold check mark.

(X still denotes official government accounts with a supplemental, now gray, check mark.)

It is unclear how the organizations and individuals highlighted in the report circumvented X's rules to pay for their premium status. (Mr. Musk has laid off about 80 percent of X's staff.) Because X no longer verifies user identities before granting verification marks, it is also possible that the accounts discovered by the Tech Transparency Project belong to impersonators.

Congressional legislation known as the Berman amendments provides for the free flow of information, without sanctions, between the United States and countries that have imposed sanctions. Internet companies have previously leaned on the amendments, including in 2020, when TikTok argued that they protected the app from an effort by President Donald J. Trump to block U.S. citizens from downloading it. But it's unclear whether the argument would cover financial transactions on a social media service.

The X account of Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah.Credit…via X

Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, appears to have started paying X in November for a premium account and frequently posts press releases and memes mocking the United States and Israel to his 93,000 followers. His account is labeled as Verified ID, which means the account holder provided X with a copy of a government-issued ID.

An account identifying itself as Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, an Iranian-backed militia, also received the blue tick in November and promotes its causes to more than 11,000 followers. And the Yemeni militia known as the Houthis signed it this month, just weeks after the United States said it would be designated a terrorist group after its Attacks on cargo ships in the Red Sea..

The X account of Ansar Allah, also known as the Houthis.Credit…via X
The X account of Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, an Iranian-backed militia.Credit…via X

On Facebook, by contrast, searches for Nasrallah come with a warning that his name “is sometimes associated with the activities of dangerous individuals and organizations.”

The impostors took the opportunity to impersonate brands when X introduced subscriptions in late 2022, and the site has had trouble controlling scammers ever since. Last month, an account with a gold checkmark amassed 35,000 followers while posting praise for Hitler before being suspended. (Vicenews previously reported the news.) And in October, Some accounts with the blue check mark spread false information. about the conflict in Gaza.

X originally gave free premium accounts to some of its biggest advertisers, but ran into trouble even with them as many were hacked, according to internal messages seen by The New York Times. This month, Monique Pintarelli, X's head of advertising sales in America, demanded an audit of all accounts that had received free gold checkmarks and asked employees to remove badges from accounts that were compromised, according to those messages. .

ryan mac contributed reporting from Los Angeles.


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