On Oct. 5, 2023, a user on X named Armand Domalewski posted that the social media platform's owner, Elon Musk, had announced his endorsement of U.S. President Joe Biden for a second term in the White House.
"Elon Musk endorses Joe Biden for re-election," the post read alongside a picture of Musk smiling.
However, this news was not true. Domalewski had created the post (archived) as somewhat of a satirical example of a recent decision made by X that removes visible headlines from posts that contain links.
The link in the post, which was only displayed as "Fortune.com," led to an article with a headline that could only be read if users visited the website. That headline: "Elon Musk plans to remove headlines from news articles shared on X."
Domalewski told us via a DM on X, "I think it is telling that even though I made what seemed to me to be an extremely obviously joke, there were still a not insignificant number of people who accepted it at face value. That seems…bad."
The image displayed only "Axios.com," and again, the headline for the article wasn't visible. Once the image was clicked, users would see that the headline on Axios.com read, "Musk says X discourages links in posts."
Domalewski continued: "A huge reason why people stay on this platform is for news. If people who write the news have no incentive to post here, it's going to strangle the quality of the platform."
He also called the decision by X "annoying," saying, "I have to click on an article link to even find out what it's about. Just… why?"
A different X user named @ACABylonBee also created a post (archived) to display how easily users might be misled with an article's headline no longer being visible. The post read, "Elon Musk found dead at Twitter HQ of apparent suicide."
This post led to the same Fortune.com article also used by Domalewski. In other words, no, Musk hadn't endorsed Biden, come out as transgender or died of suicide.
Some readers might wonder what the removal of visible headlines might mean for the future of X, that is, if the policy isn't reversed in the near future.
The Associated Press reported about how different of a world the social media platform has become for journalists who are looking to bring news to the platform's users:
Under Twitter's previous leadership, journalists — no matter how small their outlet — could receive a blue checkmark next to their username that verified they were who they said they were. Celebrities and other public figures could also receive a verification. That changed when Musk ended the verification process and Twitter started doling out blue checkmarks to anyone who wanted one — without verifying their identity — as long as they pay a monthly subscription fee.
Musk has also gutted the team that had been responsible for moderating the content flowing across the platform, temporarily suspended accounts of journalists and has appeared to throttle, or slow down access to links, to media sites such as The New York Times.
Ben Collins, a senior reporter for NBC News who has written extensively about online disinformation efforts, posted of X's decision to remove headlines from posts, "We're in an information war and information is losing — because the only people who know we're in one are trying to kill it."