Elon Musk’s social media platform, formerly known as Twitter and now called X, is facing criticism after it was discovered that the platform had granted subscription perks, including blue check marks, to accounts affiliated with “terrorist” groups and organisations and individuals calling for “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide.”

The Tech Transparency Project (TTP) revealed that X had provided blue check marks to accounts linked to members of Hezbollah and Ansar Allah, among others. These check marks, which were previously free, are now offered as part of a paid subscription service priced at US$8 (£6.40) a month, allowing users to post longer messages and receive better promotion.

Critics argue that this move by X raises concerns about the platform’s role in amplifying disinformation and providing a platform to individuals facing sanctions in the US. The decision to monetise the blue check mark feature has been particularly controversial, with detractors suggesting that it could exacerbate issues related to impersonation and misinformation.

Following the TTP’s report, X removed the blue check marks from the identified accounts. However, questions remain about the platform’s compliance with US sanctions laws and its responsibility in ensuring that premium services are not provided to sanctioned entities.

Among the accounts identified by the TTP was one associated with Ansar Allah, also known as the Houthis, who are sanctioned in both the US and UK. The Houthis’ account had reportedly paid for the blue check mark feature, despite being subject to international sanctions.

Meta, X, Google, and Microsoft have been widely accused of censoring content critical of Israel’s actions in its ongoing war in Gaza or showing sympathy for the plight of Palestinians. Since 7 October, Israel, backed and armed by the United States, the United Kingdom, and other western governments, has killed nearly 29,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children, and wounded around 69,000 others. Over 80% percent of the civilian infrastructure in Gaza, including hospitals, schools, and places of worship, have been damaged or destroyed by the ongoing Israeli bombardment, according to the United Nations and other international humanitarian organisations operating in the region.

Numerous social media accounts, sympathetic to the Palestinians and critical of Israel’s alleged violations of international law, have been either suspended, shadow-banned, or removed from platforms operated by major tech companies under various pretexts, according to social media monitoring groups. While social media accounts supporting Israel’s ongoing military operation in Gaza, some of which have openly called for “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide” of Palestinians, are allowed on these platforms without any consequence, they alleged.

In response to the allegations, X stated that its subscription process adheres to legal obligations and is independently screened by payment providers. However, concerns persist about the platform’s vetting process and its potential role in providing services to sanctioned entities.

Elon Musk, the owner of X and CEO of Tesla, has previously advocated for free speech on social media platforms while also emphasising the removal of illegal content. However, decisions made by X following Musk’s takeover, such as the reinstatement of Kanye West’s account after a ban for offensive posts, have drawn criticism.

The controversy surrounding X underscores the challenges faced by social media platforms in balancing free speech with the need to combat misinformation and adhere to legal regulations. As scrutiny mounts, stakeholders are calling for greater transparency and accountability from platforms like X in ensuring that their services are not exploited by sanctioned individuals or entities.