Investigators Suspect 150 Accounts Boosting Netanyahu Are Fake – Twitter Blocks 258

Some accounts belong to real people, whose pro-Netanyahu messages were amplified by the bots

Oded Yaron
Oded Yaron
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a speech about the bot network, April 1, 2019.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a speech about the bot network, April 1, 2019.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Oded Yaron
Oded Yaron

Twitter has blocked 258 accounts linked to a network boosting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's re-election campaign exposed by an investigative report by Noam Rotem and Yuval Adam, and published in Yediot Ahronot and The New York Times.

Many users have complained of being muzzled since some of the accounts that were blocked belong to legitimate, ordinary people.

Anyone who has read the original report about the Big Bots Project would not be surprised that genuine accounts have also been blocked, since the report says the network included 150 inauthentic accounts along with a similar number or more of accounts belonging to real people. Twitter apparently responded to the issue without sorting out which accounts cited were legitimate and which belonged to bots.

The researchers reported said that “further analysis revealed 150 accounts to be fake ones. The analysis weeded out data based on suspected false names, suspected profile photos, finding digital traces of these users on Facebook and Instagram, locating original content on Twitter (rather than shared content), and on whether these accounts disseminated personal, not just political content.”

>> Read more: Phone hacking? Fake Twitter accounts? You ain't seen nothing yet | Analysis ■ Gantz-Netanyahu faceoff is suddenly infested by fake social media accounts

“Using these categories, the researchers could distinguish between online content based on authentic users compared to fake ones. It’s important to note that accounts that were found to be ‘real’ (with users identifying themselves and providing photos) also expressed support for Likud. It seemed they were operated in an organized manner, but these accounts were only partially investigated.”

Rotem told Haaretz that they had never claimed that the network had only fake accounts, whether bots or accounts in the service of others.

“We never said there were no real people behind it. On the contrary, the argument is that there are real people who are being augmented by fake profiles,” Rotem said.

The report caused a furor, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hosting one of the activists described as holding a fake account.

“No one is fake, they’re all real,” said Netanyahu.

Netanyahu assailed Kahol Lavan party leaders Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid and the media, which he accused of collaborating with these politicians. He said, “Kahol Lavan has an army of bots who tarnish me and my family, conducting the most mendacious campaign ever held here.”

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