Facebook Removes Fake Accounts Aiming to Suppress Arab Voters in Israeli Election

Nonprofit identified 32 suspicious accounts, many targeting official Facebook page of Ayman Odeh, leader of Arab-majority party

A voting station in the southern city of Rahat, September 17, 2019.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Facebook removed dozens of fake accounts designed to reduce Arab voter turnout in the upcoming election, the company confirmed to Haaretz Tuesday.

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The user profiles were identified in an investigation conducted by the Democratic Bloc nonprofit organization. The researchers, headed by Morshed Bebar, identified 32 accounts they suspected were fake, and after they reported them to Facebook, 30 were removed.

The investigators monitored dozens of news pages, official pages of public figures, election campaign pages and other pages popular among the Arab community in Israel. The pages they identified “spread direct content that encouraged boycotting the election, or contributed to it indirectly through the use of planting despair or encouraging social polarization,” said the Democratic Bloc.

The group’s report follows a study conducted by the Democratic Bloc in the period before the September Knesset election which led to Facebook removing 82 profiles suspected of being fake.

The Democratic Bloc said they noticed certain patterns, such as names, actions and responses which aroused their suspicions. Similar details caused them to suspect that there was an organized and computerized operation. One major center of the activities was on the Facebook page of MK Ayman Odeh, the chairman of the Arab-majority Joint List party, where almost half of the fake accounts, 14, often posted responses.

A comment on the shared on the Join List Facebook page saying 'If we boycott 70%, we make more of an impact'
The Democratic Block

"Stop humiliating yourself," one of the profiles wrote on Odeh's page. "When someone says they don't want you and don't want your support, how do you expect to replace [Netanyahu]. Gantz also doesn't want you or your party and agrees to the deal of the century. You'll hear from me that your only concerned with getting as many seats as you can in the Knesset so you can get money. When it comes to politics, the truth is that you and your party are out of the political game."

The nature of the responses, the methods used for running the accounts and the choice of names and pictures used reflected the high likelihood that these were fake accounts, but it is still not clear who was behind these attempts to suppress Arab voter turnout. Bebar said this was a part of “an organized and manipulative effort behind which lie anonymous interests that are maliciously using social media to influence the discussion.”

Facebook confirmed the report to Haaretz, saying the Democratic Bloc has presented them with a list of pages they suspected were fake. “We passed on the list to our global content checkers and removed the profiles that were not authentic from the platform,” said Maayan Sarig, communications manager for Facebook Israel.