Labour Party dumps UK election candidate over 10-year-old tweets about Israel and Islamophobia

Meta removes over 500 Israeli social media accounts that mislead the public about the Gaza war

LONDON: Meta has removed more than 500 Facebook and Instagram accounts, run as a network by Israel, that sought to “manipulate” public debate over Tel Aviv’s war on Gaza, the tech giant revealed on Wednesday.

In its latest Adversarial Threat Report, published on May 29, Meta highlighted that the Israeli network – closed in the first quarter of 2024 – included 510 Facebook accounts and 32 Instagram accounts, 11 pages and one group.

Meta’s investigation found that these accounts violated its policy defined as “coordinated efforts to manipulate public debate for a strategic objective, in which fake accounts are central to the operation.”

The network targeted audiences in the United States and Canada, but was discovered and shut down early in its audience-building efforts, Meta said. She had about 500 followers on Facebook and 2,000 on Instagram and fewer than 100 group members.

Meta’s investigation found that these fake accounts had operations across the internet, with activity on X and YouTube.

Presented as representing U.S. and Canadian citizens, the accounts contained posts mostly in English about Israel’s war on Gaza. They included praise for the actions of the Israeli army, criticism of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East and calls for the release of Israeli hostages.

The network also operated “distinctly branded websites focused on the Israel-Hamas war and Middle Eastern politics.” And they promoted them by posting comments on the Facebook pages of international and local media, as well as those of political and public figures, including US lawmakers.

On October 7, Hamas carried out a surprise attack in southern Israel, killing 1,200 people and taking about 250 hostage.

In retaliation, Israel launched a relentless bombing campaign on the Gaza Strip, killing more than 35,000 Palestinians, displacing 90% of the population and destroying critical infrastructure, according to United Nations data.

Meta began investigating the network’s activity following an analysis of public reports by the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab on inauthentic behavior on X. Meta then found corresponding activity on its own social apps.

But even before the investigation began, Meta’s automated systems had detected and deactivated several fake and compromised accounts. However, since these accounts have been disabled, the people behind them have added more, likely acquired from account farms.

The report found that supporters of the network also purchased inauthentic content, including likes and followers, from Vietnam.

The investigation revealed that there was an attempt to hide the source of the accounts by exploiting the North American proxy infrastructure; and that they were linked to STOIC, a political marketing and business intelligence firm based in Tel Aviv.

After banning STOIC on its platforms, Meta sent the company a letter demanding it immediately cease activities that violate its policies.

Last week, Meta said it had deactivated the accounts of several Israeli settlers who were using Facebook and Instagram to coordinate raids on humanitarian convoys heading to the Gaza Strip. The company said these operations violated its damage coordination policy.

But in December last year, Human Rights Watch accused Meta of “broken promises” after finding the company guilty of “systemic censorship of Palestinian content” and failing to “fulfill its human rights due diligence responsibilities.”

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