Fake 'Iranian' Account Targeting Israelis Is Back on Facebook

Despite going down last week and despite multiple complaints, a fake Facebook account which is pushing disinformation in Israel is back online

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The Facebook profile of "Noa Shamir". Her account was removed from Facebook as part of a wider take-down of fake accounts targeting Israelis and linked to Iran
The Facebook profile of "Noa Shamir". Her account was removed from Facebook as part of a wider take-down of fake accounts targeting Israelis and linked to IranCredit: Screen capture

A fake Facebook account purporting to belong to an anti-Netanyahu activist named Noa Shamir, which was active for the past few months and disappeared suddenly about a week ago, came back on line again a few days ago. 

The fake account was opened about four months ago, using photos taken from a Instagram account belonging to a real woman from Russia named Ksenia Zhuravleva. It’s modus operandi was identified by experts as being identical to that of other fake Facebook accounts that the company itself has taken down as part of its war on what it terms “coordinated inauthentic behavior.”

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Shamir’s page, which on Holocaust Remembrance Day posted pictures comparing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Adolf Hitler, is rife with examples of activity that is in line with known disinformation methods - and which the social media giant should already have identified and neutralized. 

In recent years accounts of this type have appeared all the time – without regular users knowing that they are fake and that political forces are behind them.

The fake profile of 'Noa Shamir' went back online this week, despite claims that it fits Facebook's definition of 'coordinated inauthentic behavior'Credit: Facebook / Screen capture

About two weeks ago, the independent journalist Yossi Dorfman, who works to expose fake accounts on social media published extensive evidence that Shamir is not a real person. At the same time, investigators from Fake Reporter – a public platform that worked to identify fake accounts and incitement on social media – conducted for the past year their own probe following many complaints about the account and others.

Fake Reporter went to Facebook (and others) with their findings – but Shamir’s account was not immediately blocked. The investigators subsequently also went to law enforcement agencies, including the Israel Police and Israel’s cyber authority, which are meant to handle improper activity on the web. 

A few days later the account disappeared and the investigators thought that Facebook had removed it. Last week, it popped up again for a few days and its operator once again shared posts dealing among other things with political and social problems in Israel.

This method has become popular on social media. Foreign forces are easily able to masquerade as ordinary local citizens on Facebook, despite much publicized efforts by the social media platform to stop “coordinated inauthentic behavior.” 

The fake profiles try to prod real users into joining stormy discussions with the goal of fomenting dissent and creating more extreme polarization online. Facebook and Twitter provide fertile ground for such activity because anyone can open a fake account and express any ideas they want to promote, with no oversight by the social media companies. Another reason is that regulatory actions are not strong enough to prevent such phenomena. 

The Guardian also recently reported how Facebook’s “Pages” allows fake users to amplify their voice on the platform.

Foreign intervention 

Iranian account taken down by Facebook.Credit: Facebook / Screen Capture

Facebook has stated often that it works hard to clear fake users from the platform. They as well as researchers in Israel have found indications of foriegn actors attempting to interfere in Israeli society and politics through social media – reminiscent of Russian intervention in the 2016 U.S. elections.

Israel, which has been in a loop of four election campaigns over the past two years has seen, for example, many attempts at Iranian interference through Facebook, according to Facebook’s own self-disclosed reports. 

For example, in April, Facebook published its coordinated inauthentic behavior report, in which it detailed the removal of 29 fake accounts operating from Iran in October 2020. A month before, Facebook reported that it had taken down 446 accounts, four pages and three Facebook groups operating from Iran. Facebook also noted at the time that the network it found was focused on posting in Israel.

In October 2020, Facebook reported that a technology company from Tehran had operated fake accounts, particularly on Instagram. There were 12 profiles that purported to be Israelis who supported anti-Netanyahu protests and who spread content about Netanyahu’s failed handling of the coronavirus crisis to agitate users.

While Facebook pledged to invest major resources in maintaining a more secure and authentic platform and said that it has learned the lessons from 2016, it seems what is being done is not enough. In the U.S. they are facing Congressional investigations in which it has been required to explain how it is working to prevent foreign interference and influence campaigns targeting public opinion. In Israel, Facebook is not investigated by the authorities in this regard – although it has been proven more than once that such actions exist and persist on the platform.

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