Videos published online that Hamas says are its terrorists committing violent acts during the recent attack on Israel have spread across the app X and the messaging app Telegram, with many remaining online for hours and sometimes days.
On X, some videos created by Hamas and the Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing, have been shared by some verified accounts and have accrued millions of views, according to a review by NBC News. Hamas videos were also viewable on Telegram, which is based in Dubai and has few rules about the content that users post.
Users who have posted the videos on X often say they’re reposting official Hamas content from the group’s attack on Israel. On Telegram, videos from the official Qassam Brigades account are labeled as first-person footage from terrorists who were part of the attack.
When asked for comment, X sent an automated email saying “Busy now, please check back later.” Telegram didn’t respond.
Telegram CEO Pavel Durov said Friday in a post on the app that the company removes “millions of obviously harmful content from our public platform,” but that it also sees some value and responsibility in being an avenue for war-related content even if some of it is produced by terrorist organizations.
“Unlike other apps that algorithmically promote shocking content to unsuspecting people, on Telegram, users receive only the content to which they specifically subscribed,” he added. “As such, it’s unlikely that Telegram channels can be used to significantly amplify propaganda. Instead, they serve as a unique source of first-hand information for researchers, journalists, and fact-checkers.”
NBC News was unable to find such overt violent, branded videos on other major tech platforms, though footage from the war remains pervasive.
Adam Hadley, executive director of Tech Against Terrorism, a nonprofit group that helps tech platforms moderate branded terrorism content from groups officially designated as terrorist organizations by the United States, United Kingdom and the European Union, said he was disappointed in the tech companies’ responses.
“What we have found over the past week is that a number of platforms have done nothing,” he said. “And we’re talking about officially branded material.”
Platforms have for many years had special rules regarding content produced by terrorist organizations. About a decade ago, tech companies began to more aggressively moderate their platforms after the Islamic State terrorist group began publishing violent propaganda videos.
Under the leadership of Elon Musk, who bought X last year, the company has cut back on its moderation teams that policed the platform for content that violated its policies. The company also changed the definition of a “verified” user from a person the company has authenticated to a person who pays a monthly fee for a premium subscription.
Those users get priority placement in other users’ feeds and in search results, and can monetize their accounts if they reach enough people.
The nonprofit Tech Transparency Project, which aims to create accountability for tech companies, released a report Thursday highlighting Hamas content on X. It found four verified accounts that have shared branded Hamas content purportedly from the invasion. NBC News verified that those videos are all still visible on X.
“That is particularly concerning with content like this because it is essentially paying to get algorithmically promoted Hamas videos ranked higher in search,” said Katie Paul, the organization’s director.
The European Commission, the enforcement arm of the E.U., has warned X that allowing terrorism videos to proliferate on major websites runs afoul of the bloc's regulations. X CEO Linda Yaccarino told the E.U. in an open letter Wednesday that “we have taken action to remove or label tens of thousands of pieces of content.”
“Shortly after the news broke about the Hamas attack, X assembled a leadership group to assess the situation. In crisis situations, X’s unique purpose to serve the public conversation; access and share information, raise awareness about the situations they are in and on the ground, and openly and freely exchange on issues becomes all the more critical,” she wrote.
The Commission announced Thursday that it was escalating its inquiry into X and could impose fines.
Terrorist and extremist content have also long proliferated on Telegram. The app is often the first place that footage from terrorist acts and war zones is uploaded before spreading to other sites like X.
The Qassam Brigades maintains an active Telegram channel with more than 600,000 subscribers. Videos that purport to be from the invasion over the weekend, including footage of killed and captured Israelis, are live on the channel.
Yasmin Green, CEO of Jigsaw, a Google-owned organization that designs tech programs to counter societal platforms — including ones to automatically flag content from particular terrorist groups — said she worried the Hamas videos could inspire further acts of violence. They echo how ISIS used videos of violence for recruitment almost a decade also, she said. That group also primarily used Telegram and Twitter.
“We’re about to witness a phenomenal wave of radicalization,” she said. “The incitement to violence is really concerning. I won’t be surprised when I see it in the Hamas case, because I already learned the lesson from the ISIS case that egregious violence can be a recruitment asset for terrorist groups.”