Fake Accounts Used to Spread Propaganda During Israeli Elections, Watchdog Finds

The state comptroller's report lists Labor, Likud and Kahol Lavan as some of the parties that stood to gain from the sponsored campaigns

Michael Hauser Tov
Michael Hauser Tov
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Election campaign ads in Be'er Sheva, 2019.
Election campaign ads in Be'er Sheva, 2019.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Michael Hauser Tov
Michael Hauser Tov

Fake social media accounts were used to proliferate partisan propaganda during two recent Israeli elections, according to an Israeli state comptroller’s report released Tuesday.

The report sounds the alarm on "a broad discourse on social networks pretending to be authentic, which is liable to mislead the public and influence public opinion in favor of or against parties," stressing it was "liable to influence election results.”

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The comptroller was not able to identify who operated the accounts, and the parties in question denied any connection to them.

Israel’s Central Elections Committee bans publishing election material on the web without identifying the advertiser. According to Comptroller Matanyahu Englman, research conducted at his request by an independent company analyzed official and unofficial election activity on social networks ahead of the April 2019 election for the 21st Knesset.

He found that fictitious accounts actively tried to benefit the Labor Party, Yisrael Beiteinu, Kulanu, Shas, Hayamin Hehadash, the Union of Right-Wing Parties, Likud, Zehut and Kahol Lavan.

“There are indications that election campaign activity was funded for parties through the acquisition of Facebook and Twitter accounts as well as through fake accounts, based on the identification of accounts of followers in various countries; on the increase in the number of followings for accounts of incumbent Knesset members; on the activity of many accounts to advance and echo similar or identical campaign messages.”

The comptroller added that the research indicated that similar patterns of operations also took place in the election campaign for the 22nd Knesset in September 2019, “to an even greater degree.”

Upon being questioned by the comptroller, all the parties named in the report denied being responsible for the activities of the accounts in question. Englman wrote that “lacking identification of the forces responsible for the publications on the web and on social media that were identified in the research, I was unable to determine who was responsible for these publications and whether they constitute funded activity for the benefit of parties that went unreported.”

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