Bellingcat warns of ‘censorship’ on X after research on Russian attack is labeled spam

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The social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, received criticism from researchers after it labeled a link by the investigative journalism group Bellingcat about Russia’s attack on a children’s hospital in Kyiv as “potentially spammy or unsafe.”

In their latest research, Bellingcat identified a Russian Kh-101 cruise missile that struck Ukraine’s largest children’s medical center, Okhmatdyt, during an attack on Kyiv over the weekend that killed 33 people, including 5 children.

Bellingcat’s investigation debunked claims from pro-Russian accounts that denied responsibility for the attack and “sought to shift the blame for the incident onto Ukraine,” researchers said.

Bellingcat, a Netherlands-based organization made famous for its use of open-source intelligence and crowdsourcing, has uncovered stories dealing with issues like the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 and the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Despite its reputation, X marked the link to the group’s latest research as “unsafe,” saying that it could lead users to “violent or misleading content” or to a website that misleads people, disrupts their experience, or steals their personal information.

The platform did not reply to a request for comment.

Bellingcat said that it reported the problem to X but, as of the time of writing, the link is still labeled as spam. This hasn’t been the case on other social media platforms, researchers added.

The group’s founder, Eliot Higgins, said in a post on X that the latest article about the Russian bombing of a children’s hospital is the only Bellingcat link that shows the warning.

“You have to wonder if this is deliberate censorship from the so-proclaimed free speech absolutist,” Higgins said.

According to him, this is not the first time Bellingcat has been “censored” on X “in the Musk-era.” Last year, X seemed to shadow-ban the group after their post saying that the alleged perpetrator of the Texas mass shooting had far-right leanings.

Musk questioned this statement, accusing the outlet, without evidence, of “specializing in psychological operations.”

Following this standoff, X limited the reach of Bellingcat, as its main account temporarily didn’t appear in the app’s search tool.

X’s latest decision to label Bellingcat’s article as “unsafe” plays into Russian disinformation campaigns surrounding the hospital attack.

Following the strike, several Russian social media accounts, including that of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, began to claim that the missile that hit the hospital was American-made and that it had been launched from a Ukrainian anti-aircraft missile system.

Russian propagandists have also tried to portray the attack as a legitimate response to alleged Ukrainian attacks on Russian civilian facilities.

Russian media widely circulated footage and images of the missile seconds before it hit the hospital, and some local military bloggers even published misleading posts falsely claiming that it was a Ukrainian air defense missile and not an attacking Russian Kh-101 missile, according to a report by the U.S. nonprofit Institute for the Study of War.

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Daryna Antoniuk

is a reporter for Recorded Future News based in Ukraine. She writes about cybersecurity startups, cyberattacks in Eastern Europe and the state of the cyberwar between Ukraine and Russia. She previously was a tech reporter for Forbes Ukraine. Her work has also been published at Sifted, The Kyiv Independent and The Kyiv Post.

 

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