The weekslong Israeli assault on Gaza in response to a deadly surprise attack by Hamas militants on Oct. 7 has already cost thousands of lives, and the bloodshed will only continue as a ground invasion gets underway. But thousands of miles distant, paid clout-chasers on X, formerly Twitter, are using the conflict to boost their profiles — and a few who have successfully pivoted to pro-Palestine content were formerly known for hate speech, extremism, and conspiracy theories. Some may also be gaming social media algorithms through viral misinformation and reckless sharing of graphic imagery.
These aggressive strategies have led unsuspecting users seeking up-to-date context on the war, particularly narratives that challenge official statements from the U.S. and Israel, to interact with and amplify potentially harmful accounts. The influencers, in turn, may reap higher creator payouts from X.
An account called @CensoredMen, for example, on Tuesday posted about an Israeli airstrike on the Jabalia refugee camp in north Gaza, in the clinical tone you might expect from a newswire service. But the post appeared to inflate the number of casualties: “Hundreds of civilians have been killed and hundreds more have been injured,” read the tweet, whereas the initial death toll reported by Palestinian medics was 50. The same post included a video of a young man grieving over a dead body. The tweet has thousands of likes and many replies from other blue-check accounts. Impressions from these users are the engagement metric by which creators on the platform are paid. (You can also buy a premium subscription to @CensoredMen for $3 a month.)
But why, you might ask, is an X feed promoting pro-Palestine content and criticism of Israel called “@CensoredMen”? It’s because the account, launched in December 2022, was originally used largely to protest the innocence of misogynist manosphere figure Andrew Tate and his brother Tristan, who were detained in Romania that month and later charged with rape and human trafficking. Many early posts sought to discredit the Tates’ alleged victims, while others condemned the “LGBTQ agenda,” demonizing drag performers and transgender people. The user even complained in February of being temporarily suspended for such posts. An analysis published recently by the University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public found @CensoredMen has become one of seven accounts wielding “disproportionate power and influence” over Israel-Hamas news on X.
The account — which has more than tripled in size to 683,000 since this July — has from its inception regularly retweeted Sulaiman Ahmed, a U.K. graduate student. Ahmed has similarly supported the Tates, arguing that they were framed, and posted transphobic content while stoking fears of LGBTQ “grooming” of children. Also like @CensoredMen, Ahmed has lately taken to sharing repetitive, nonstop updates about the devastation in Gaza, many of them questionable. His posts Tuesday about the Jabalia airstrike declared “500 KILLED AND INJURED,” far more than the official estimate given by medical personnel on the ground, but just one was flagged with a Community Notes correction. In September, Ahmed had 88,000 followers, a number that has more than doubled to 206,000 since the Israel-Hamas war began.
Other verified accounts that have quickly increased in size over the past several weeks by focusing on the suffering of Palestinians, but previously displayed a pattern of transphobic and LGBTQ comments, include: former UFC and MMA fighter Jake Shields, banned YouTuber Ryan Dawson, and an anonymous “anti-woke” account called “Lord Bebo.”
Some blue-check influencers gaining clout with pro-Palestine, anti-Israel sentiment — and presumably earning higher payouts from X as a result — have histories of boosting medical misinformation and antisemitic propaganda. Anastasia Maria Loupis, a doctor in Denmark who has long argued that the Covid vaccines are harmful and face masks are ineffective — elsewhere railing against the “trans agenda” — gained about 240,000 followers in the past month, putting her in reach of a million. She now goes viral with memes calling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “child killer” and Israel a “terrorist state.” Meanwhile, she’s using the war to advance her anti-vax rhetoric in distinctly antisemitic fashion. “The people who helped create, develop, distribute, and force the ‘vaccines’ on you and your children are all supporters of Israel,” she tweeted in mid-October, along with a video identifying Jewish pharmaceutical executives with the yellow Star of David badge used by Nazis.
Irish YouTuber Keith Woods, too, is amassing followers and widespread praise for his “anti-Zionist” perspective. In a now-deleted tweet from 2019, Woods identified himself as a “raging anti-semite,” and he helped spur a recent campaign to ban Jewish advocacy group, the Anti-Defamation League, from X. The campaign drew support from site owner Elon Musk, who went on to baselessly blame a loss of advertising revenue on the organization. Angelo John Gage, a white nationalist banned by YouTube and Twitter in 2021 over his neo-Nazi propaganda, evidently returned to X as “Lucas Gage”and has added 100,000 followers in the past month with posts decrying a #GazaGenocide. But he’s also posted a summary of the antisemitic tract The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and quotes from Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, while exhorting this audience to “STOP BEING SOFT ON JEWS!“
But no online reactionary has leveraged Palestine for exposure on the scale that Jackson Hinkle has. The pro-Russia MAGA influencer once said on a Twitch stream, “I do everything for the clout, you will never see me do something not for the clout.” You can see the proof on his X account, which he claims was the “most viral worldwide” in October, surpassing Musk’s profile. After starting the year with around 100,000 followers, he’s closing in on 2 million, the bulk of these flocking to his page over the past few weeks. Like @CensoredMen, he offers a premium subscription for $3 a month, which he says will help “DEFEAT THE ZIONIST LIES.”
In practice, however, Hinkle’s frenetic, near-constant tweets are rife with misinformation — as when he falsely claimed that old photos showed “thousands” of U.S. Marines now landing in Israel or current U.S. airstrikes in eastern Syria — and harrowing, uncensored violent images. He also whitewashes military actions taken by Vladimir Putin against Ukraine and calls Syrian president Bashar al-Assad a “hero” despite his government’s own deadly siege against a refugee camp of Palestinians in the Yarmouk district Damascus. Hinkle is also known to invoke antisemitic conspiracy theories about billionaire George Soros‘ supposed control over global events.
All told, the online alt-right has been enormously successful at co-opting the Palestinian cause to line their pockets and advance separate agendas. They’re often not shy about requesting money, dog-whistling to extremists, or framing rank antisemitism as “anti-Zionist” criticism of Israel. Yet huge swaths of X users have accepted them as reliable authorities on a fast-developing crisis in the Middle East, and thereby introduced new strains of propaganda into their media diet without realizing it.
Misinformation and misleading content has gone in both directions, vilifying Palestinians and Israelis alike. Observers should be aware of telltale signs of false narratives as well as faked or decontextualized images and videos, which have proliferated on X.
The platform hasn’t done much to stem the tide of misinformation, nor has it shown much concern about bankrolling theoretically radicalizing tweets. Musk’s idea to cut off monetization for posts corrected with “Community Notes” is unlikely to make a difference given the limits of the system and the sheer volume of content from top influencers. Until payments for verified users dry up altogether, it seems we’re stuck with this band of war profiteers.