Social media giant Meta announced on Wednesday that it had taken action against a network of over 150 Facebook and Instagram accounts it believes is linked to Palestinian armed group Hamas.
“We removed 141 Facebook accounts, 79 Pages, 13 Groups and 21 Instagram accounts from the Gaza Strip in Palestine that primarily targeted people in Palestine, and to a much lesser extent in Egypt and Israel,” said Meta – the parent company of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp – in its monthly Adversarial Threat Report.
“We found this activity as part of our internal investigation into suspected coordinated inauthentic behavior in the region and linked it to Hamas,” a statement by the company said.
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Meta defines coordinated inauthentic behavior as “coordinated efforts to manipulate public debate for a strategic goal where fake accounts are central to the operation.”
This May, Facebook announced that 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.
According to its April coordinated inauthentic behavior report, 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.
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“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.”
Two weeks earlier, in a report entitled “Taking Action Against Hackers in Palestine,” Facebook stated that it had taken action against two groups of Palestinian hackers —one of them linked to the Palestinian Authority’s intelligence organ, the Preventive Security Service— “removing their ability to use their infrastructure to abuse our platform, distribute malware and hack people’s accounts across the internet.”
It said that the group linked to the PSS “relied on social engineering to trick people into clicking on malicious links and installing malware on their devices” and that it had targeted “a wide range” of people, “including journalists, people opposing the Fatah-led government, human rights activists and military groups including the Syrian opposition and Iraqi military.”
Israel has also come under accusations of hacking Palestinian communications.
Last month, the Palestinian Foreign Ministry claimed that it had detected spyware developed by the Israeli hacker-for-hire company NSO Group on the phones of three senior officials and accused Israel of using the military-grade Pegasus software to eavesdrop on them.
The allegations came several days after international organizations Citizen Lab, Amnesty International and Front Line Defenders released a report stating that NSO spyware had been used to monitor the cellphones of six Palestinian activists