X Kicked Off 2024 by Screwing Up During Japan's Earthquake Emergency

As misinformation proliferated on X thanks to verified users, a massive account sharing accurate information hit its Musk-imposed posting limit.
X Kicked Off 2024 by Screwing Up During Japan's Earthquake Emergency
Photo from Jan 2, 2024 in Japan. Image: Photo by Kyodo News via Getty Images 

A 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck Japan on New Year’s Day, sending many people seeking information about the disaster to X, formerly called Twitter. Instead, users of the Elon Musk-owned platform found misinformation from verified accounts as the website limited posts from a key source of emergency information. 

That this was the site’s first major test of the year does not bode well for the upcoming 2024 elections, as observers expect misinformation to flourish online. 


In one post viewed roughly 750,000 times, a verified user on X posted a video from a 2021 landslide with the caption, “ohhhh...this is very scary, people screaming” and hashtags including “#JapanEarthquake”. In another post viewed over 600,000 times, a verified user posted a video from 2011 showing massive amounts of water flowing inland, claiming it was “breaking news” from Japan. The same video was shared by other verified accounts. Another video that gained thousands of views and was shared by numerous accounts (including some that are verified) actually depicted an earthquake in Turkey. 

Verified users sharing misinformation have become a larger problem on X since Musk revamped the verification system, making it so anyone paying a monthly fee can receive a blue verification check. Previously, blue checks indicated the user was a notable or trusted public figure. Musk also implemented a revenue sharing model for subscribers, encouraging verified accounts to farm engagement with inflammatory posts. However, X’s guidelines state that spam and false claims are against the rules and make content ineligible for monetization.


X implemented crowd-sourced fact checking in the form of Community Notes after Musk’s takeover, which have been appended to many of the viral posts containing misinformation. In some cases, the original authors acknowledged their supposed mistake, but left the original posts online. 

While misinformation was spreading on X, the platform limited a key source of real information about the disaster. NERV is a massively popular Japanese app owned by IT company Gehirn Inc. that shares emergency information using data provided by the Japanese Meteorological Agency. On X, NERV’s Japanese-language page has more than 2 million followers. As the disaster unfolded, NERV posted that X was limiting the number of posts it could make. 

“The number of API uses for X (formerly Twitter) has reached the upper limit, so automatic tweeting is no longer possible on @UN_NERV and @EN_NERV,” NERV’s account posted in Japanese. “We would appreciate it if you could use the NERV disaster prevention app.”

“Our accounts appear to have been rate-limited due to the frequent posting of information updates regarding the Ishikawa Earthquake and Tsunami,” NERV’s English account posted. “We highly recommend that you download the NERV Disaster Prevention app in order to keep receiving updates.”

Earlier this year, NERV’s account stated that it would reduce the frequency of its posts on X due to the platform’s API limits. At the time, X announced that it would be reducing the number of posts that accounts would be able to send in a month using its API without paying a fee, which widely affected accounts posting automated updates. 

Authorities previously warned that these changes would have negative effects on X’s ability to surface relevant information in an emergency. Rate limits for users confounded members of the public in California seeking information during a 2023 heat wave in 2023this year, and a Dutch politician and experts raised similar concerns after a deadly storm in July. 

When reached for comment, X responded with a boilerplate email saying, “Busy now, please check back later.”