March 2, 2023

Since his acquisition of Twitter, tech mogul Elon Musk has received pushback on numerous occasions for promoting false information and conspiracy theories (some of which he has since walked back). Science Feedback, a fact-checking organization focused on data and research and International Fact-Checking Network verified signatory, delved into how Musk’s ownership really impacts the spread of misinformation on the platform.

Drawing on data from a consortium of IFCN signatories from Latin America, North America and Europe, Science Feedback found that misinformation superspreaders — which Science Feedback defined as accounts that consistently publish popular tweets containing links to known misinformation — have markedly increased engagement since the takeover.

On average, the 490 superspreader accounts investigated in the study received 44% more interactions post-acquisition.

Musk’s personal account (one of the most followed and engaged-with accounts on Twitter) was responsible for part of that traction increase, as Musk had repeatedly interacted with “four out of the five accounts that had gained the most influence” after the acquisition.

The cause of the increase in traffic for such accounts is unclear, Science Feedback says.

“It is notoriously difficult to identify precisely the role of algorithmic amplification versus a theoretical and elusive ‘organic’ baseline of how the content would have spread in the absence of the algorithm,” said Bastien Carniel, data and policy lead at Science Feedback. “One hypothesis we had was whether one of Elon Musk’s first decisions was to tweak the recommender algorithm to give more voice to superspreaders or remove some sort of ‘reduced reach’ status for these accounts, which would amount to the same thing.”

Potential causes for the misinfo accounts upswing, according to Science Feedback, could be Musk’s ‘free speech absolutist’ messaging empowering the superspreader crowd; the so-called ‘Great Unban’ fomenting the return of previously banned, high-engagement superspreaders; the removal of select moderation rules, especially COVID-19 ones; and the gutting of the standards enforcement team reducing moderation capacity.

Carniel said that despite Musk’s pledges to increase transparency, Twitter’s decision-making is as cryptic as ever.

“Bringing together fact-checkers’ data is always a challenge. This was particularly important for this project as we needed a critical mass of data to reliably identify superspreaders,” Carniel said, adding that Science Feedback was very grateful to Lead Stories, Bolivia Verifica, Chequea Bolivia, Male Espina, Colombia Check, Chequeado and Newtral.

Correction: This item was updated to correct a quote from Science Feedback’s study. 

Interesting fact-checks


  • Congo Check: There is no bomb-threat from Russia to ban the Democratic Republic of the Congo (French)
    • “Using a technique that has become popular with netizens who spread misinformation, one account posted a fake threat from Putin to the Democratic Republic of Congo. He says he will wipe this country off the map because he has heard rumors that the Congo is going to interfere in the Russian-Ukrainian crisis. Obviously this is false!”
  • Faktisk: Jon Almaas is abused in fake bitcoin advertising (Norwegian)
    • “In recent years, several Norwegian celebrities have been abused in advertisements to get people to invest in cryptocurrency. Now it is TV personality Jon Almaas who, according to a fake NRK article, has made investments that ‘impress experts and scare the wits of big banks’”.
  • First Check: Fact-check: Asafoetida poses health risks for pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers (English)
    • “A growing number of online content creators promote home remedies that claim to provide ‘natural treatments’ for a range of health issues. Not surprisingly, many of them have a huge following that takes these claims at face value. Despite its purported health benefits, asafoetida should be consumed with caution. It is not recommended for pregnant women, breastfeeding moms, infants, people with bleeding disorders, epilepsy, hypertension.”
  • HKBU Fact Check Service: Automatic corpse collection machine (Chinese traditional)
    • “A video has been circulated on the Internet, which shows a machine carrying a person lying on the ground. The subtitle of the video states, ‘The number of deaths in China has skyrocketed recently. … A national research team has been launched to develop an ‘automatic corpse collection machine’ and start mass production. After verification, the video shown on the Internet is actually the rescue robot ‘Robo-Q’ of the Tokyo Fire Department in Japan. The online video is edited from a series of exhibitions and public activities of the Japanese Fire Department from 2012 to 2016.”
  • Knack Magazine: No, an insect cookbook was not written by Klaus Schwab’s wife (Dutch)
    • “An image circulates online of an insect cookbook that is said to have been written by the wife of WEF chairman Klaus Schwab. The book is genuine, and was for sale on Amazon. But the World Economic Forum denies that the organization itself, chairman Schwab or his wife have anything to do with the cookbook.”
  • GRASS Fact Check: On the cover of The Economist magazine – a prediction of an earthquake in Turkey and Syria (Russian)
    • “Pro-Kremlin pages on social media claim that the cover of the September 8, 2022 issue of The Economist magazine contains a picture that leads to the conclusion that the earthquake that occurred in Turkey and Syria on February 6 was man-made.”

Quick hits


From the news: 

  • “Logically has identified two new influence operations aiming to spread pro-Russian sentiment. These influence operations amplify a previously reported connection identified by a U.S. media outlet in Luc Michel, a self-proclaimed political activist connected to Alexander Dugin, and Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Wagner Group.” Download here. (David Nemer, William Marks, Logically)
  • “’Reports from the field report misuse of Ozempic in non-diabetic people with the aim of weight loss,’  report the ANSM and Health Insurance. The European Medicines Agency explains that ‘(study) results show that treatment with Ozempic was associated with a beneficial reduction in body weight.’ Thus, according to the data cited by the ANSM, between October 2021 and October 2022, 215,000 patients received Ozempic, but 2,185 of them can be considered as non-diabetics according to the estimates of the Health Insurance notes the Agency, thus estimating the misuse, over this period of one year, at around 1%. Faced with this observation, the ANSM and Health Insurance want to strengthen surveillance by monitoring sales and reimbursement data from the national health data system, reports of non-compliant use and reports of adverse effects to regional pharmacovigilance centers. They also recall ‘that the management of overweight in adults is based above all on diet and physical activity.’” (FranceInfo.FR)

From/for the community: 

  • Google and YouTube are partnering with the International Fact-Checking Network to distribute a $13.2 million grant to the international fact-checking community. “The world needs fact-checking more than ever before. This partnership with Google and YouTube infuses financial support to global fact-checkers and is a step in the right direction,” said Baybars Örsek, former executive director of the IFCN. “And while there’s much work to be done, this partnership has sparked meaningful collaboration and an important step.”
  • The IFCN has awarded $450,000 in grant support to organizations working to lessen the impact of false and misleading information on WhatsApp. In partnership with Meta, the Spread the Facts Grant Program gives verified fact-checking organizations resources to identify, flag and reduce the spread of misinformation that threatens more than 100 billion messages each day. The grant supports eleven projects from eight countries: India, Spain, Nigeria, Georgia, Bolivia, Italy, Indonesia and Jordan. Read more about the announcement here.
  • International Fact-Checking Day will take place April 2 and be celebrated April 3 and 4.
  • Find information about helping the victims of the Turkish-Syrian earthquake here.
  • The OSINT team at Faktisk, in collaboration with doctoral student Sohail Ahmed Khan, developed two prototypes of digital tools that verify audiovisual content.
  • IFCN job announcements: Program Officer and Monitoring & Evaluation Specialist

Factually is a newsletter about fact-checking and misinformation from Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Network. Sign up here to receive it in your email every other Thursday.

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Seth Smalley is a reporter at Poynter and the IFCN. Get in touch at or on Twitter @sethsalex.
Seth Smalley

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