From blockchain to Gaza: Elon Musk’s protégé and his odd aversion to hyperlinks

Centre of attention: blockchain entrepreneur Mario Nawfal

For several days now, one of Elon Musk’s favourite customers on X/Twitter has been posting updates about Israel-Gaza every few minutes. At a time when reliable information is more important than ever it might be hoped that the posts from @MarioNawfal would help bring some clarity but instead they are just adding to the general clutter and confusion.

Twenty-nine-year-old Nawfal, who grew up in Australia, is chief executive and part-owner of the International Blockchain Consulting (IBC) Group based in Dubai’s Silicon Oasis tax haven. Some the firm’s business practices have been the subject of complaints by several of Nawfal’s former colleagues and associates.

Nawfal has been variously described as an entrepreneur, an investor, an influencer and — latterly — as a “citizen journalist”. One of his activities is hosting audio-only discussion programmes on X Spaces (formerly Twitter Spaces). Last November, during one of the discussions — about the collapse of Sam Bankman-Fried’s cryptocurrency empire — Musk unexpectedly joined in. He later congratulated Nawfal in a tweet saying “Twitter at its best!”

In June, during the short-lived insurrection in Russia by the Wagner group — the late Yevgeny Prigozhin’s mercenary militia — Nawfal tweeted intensively. “This is a military coup, we can no longer dispute this,” he wrote, adding: “Things are moving VERY rapidly and are not looking good for Putin.”

As it turned out, he was mistaken but, once again, Musk congratulated him. “Best coverage of the situation I’ve seen so far is from Mario [Nawfal],” he posted.

Musk’s support has helped Nawfal attract more than a million X followers and his current deluge of posts about Israel and Gaza has been getting plenty of user engagement. Whether all this effort serves a useful purpose, though, is another matter: it’s basically just recycling large amounts of already-published material from other sources — news reports, official statements, items plucked from Telegram, occasional videos, etc.

Posting frequently on X — usually at a rate of 6 to 10 posts an hour — ensures Nawfal has a visible presence in his followers’ timelines but the large volume of posts also results in some dross. The “news” that Syria says it is confronting “Israeli aggression”, for example, has no real value without some details ...

Another of this week’s posts (since deleted) accidentally gave the impression that Hizbullah was firing rockets at Palestinians on the West Bank:

The confusion appears to have been caused by copying text from an unnamed source that doesn’t recognise Israel and refers to it as “Palestine”.

Not all sources are equal

Nawfal’s posts rely on a variety of sources — which is good in theory — but not all the sources are equally credible and the way he presents them makes it difficult for readers to tell the difference. His posts usually give a general indication of the source but almost never include a clickable link.

The importance of using links is not to be underestimated, because they help to reduce the spread of fake news and misinformation. When people can see where information is coming from, and who is saying it, they can get a better idea of its credibility.

Nawfal’s reluctance to provide links got him into an unnecessary spot of bother earlier this week after he posted a quote attributed President Putin: “The land on which the Palestinians live is historically their land, and it was supposed to establish an independent Palestinian state that includes Gaza.” Nawfal cited Sky News Arabia as the source but without a link to the relevant news report.

This prompted an intervention from X’s Community Notes complaining that no report of Putin’s remark could be found on the Sky News Arabia website.

Nawfal initially responded with links to four other websites, two of which returned “page not found” errors. The remaining two — Arabic channels of RT and CNN — had reported comments by Putin but not the quote posted by Nawfal.

After some delay he eventually posted the relevant link to Sky News Arabia, and it showed that the fuss could easily have been avoided by including it in the original post. The quotation from Putin was in Arabic, which helps to explain why the Community Notes people, with only an English translation to work from, couldn’t find it. Nawfal had also made it harder to locate the Arabic version by paraphrasing part of the quote and mistranslating “proposed” as “supposed”.

A lot of Nawfal’s posts relate to items published in the mainstream news media. His technique is to summarise the story and name the relevant publication. In the absence of a link to the article people who want to know more then have to start Googling in order to find it. Meanwhile, readers who can’t be bothered to go searching have to make do with Nawfal’s summaries which may or may not be an accurate reflection of the original article.

For example, a post on Tuesday, attributed to Sky News, gave the impression that US special forces were preparing an operation to rescue hostages held by Hamas:

However, that’s not what Sky News actually said. It described the US team as technical experts sent to “advise and work with the Israelis” on efforts to recover the hostages. A similar report from CNN, citing a Pentagon official, spelled it out more clearly: “The support would not entail US troops on the ground in Israel. Instead, the assistance would come in the form of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.”

Nawfal’s habit of briefly summarising other people’s articles also means that potentially important nuances can easily be lost. On Tuesday he summarised a New York Times article as saying that US intelligence has so far found no evidence of “Iran’s direct involvement in the assault” on Israel by Hamas. The newspaper’s report was more specific, however: it referred to doubts that Iran “played a direct role in planning the assault”.

The puzzling part of this is why Nawfal is so averse to hyperlinks and why he doesn’t simply repost news items that he regards as significant or important, perhaps adding a note of his own about them. It would be a lot more straightforward to do and his followers would have no trouble finding the relevant articles.

But perhaps that would give too much credit to work done by others. Associates of Nawfal describe him as “hungry for fame” — which suggests his torrent of X-posts is more about placing himself at the centre of attention than spreading enlightenment about the situation in Israel and Gaza.