Facebook Removes Hundreds of Fake Accounts Linked to Palestinian President’s Party, Top Jewish Politicians in Ukraine

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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas last year.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas last year.Credit: Mohamad Torokman/AP

Facebook announced last week it had removed hundreds of fake accounts linked to Palestinian parties, including those of President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah faction, ahead of the since-canceled Palestinian elections. 

It also took down fake accounts connected to some of Ukraine's best-known Jewish politicians, including former Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman and several unnamed individuals connected to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s Servant of the People party.

Zelensky and Groysman's respective political achievements have been touted by the local Jewish community as proof that antisemitism is on the wane in the former Soviet republic.

According to Facebook’s April coordinated inauthentic behavior report, which was released last week, the social media giant removed 447 Palestinian Facebook accounts, 256 Pages, 17 Groups, and 54 Instagram accounts, as well as related WhatsApp groups followed by around 1.64 million people, which it said were linked to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party.

“The people behind this activity used fake accounts – some of which were already detected and disabled by our automated systems – to create elaborate fictitious personas and organizations posing as European and Middle East-based journalists, human rights NGOs and marketing entities,” Facebook stated, noting it had launched an investigation in anticipation of the recently canceled Palestinian elections.

“These fake personas purported to have authored press articles, attempted to hire media contributors and seed their stories with news organizations in the Middle East. The operation ran across multiple internet services and managed Pages promoting Fatah; criticizing Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran; and posting about the coronavirus pandemic, Palestinian politics and the upcoming election in Palestine,” the report added.

In Ukraine, the social media platform removed 105 Facebook accounts, 24 Pages and five Instagram accounts, following an independent investigation by media outlet Bukvy in February.

A subsequent inquiry, which was launched after Facebook received a tip from the FBI, led to the takedown of a further 477 Facebook accounts, 363 Pages, 35 Groups and 29 Instagram accounts “that originated in and targeted Ukraine,” and shared fake news for political ends.

These pages were allegedly linked to figures such as Andriy Derkach, a Ukrainian lawmaker and suspected Russian agent sanctioned by Washington for “his efforts to influence the 2020 U.S. presidential election,” as well as “political consultants associated with Volodymyr Groysman.”

The pages in question were used to purchase hundreds of thousands of dollars-worth of Facebook ads, the platform stated.

Facebook defines coordinated inauthentic behavior as “coordinated efforts to manipulate public debate for a strategic goal where fake accounts are central to the operation.” It said the deleted accounts were part of “a ready-made network of seemingly independent media websites and social media assets that worked to promote content favorable” to their backers, as well as “other political actors across the entire political spectrum, likely for hire.”

The report continued: “Interestingly, while the U.S. Department of Treasury identified Derkach as an active Russian agent, this Ukraine-focused operation was consistently anti-Russia in its content, including in early 2021, during Russia’s military buildup near Ukraine’s border.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the United Nations two years ago.Credit: TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP

“Articles and memes on this topic were primarily copied from elsewhere on the web. We assess this activity was likely designed to appeal to their core Ukrainian audience,” Facebook added.

Ukrainian English-language newspaper The Kyiv Post reported that Groysman did not respond to a request for comment.

Before becoming Ukraine’s first Jewish prime minister in 2016, Groysman served as mayor of Vinnytsia, where he leveraged his contacts in Israel in an effort to jump-start his city’s economy. He has family in the city of Ashdod, which his father Boris is a regular visitor.

He resigned in 2019 after then-President Petro Poroshenko was defeated by Zelensky, a Jewish comedian-turned-politician who had previously played the president in the popular sitcom “Servant of the People,” after which he named his party.

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