Is Someone Trying to Silence Israeli Journalists and Activists on Facebook?

The pages of several thorns in the government’s side say their Android app kept crashing Monday

FILE PHOTO: Monday, June 19, 2017, in North Andover, Mass. USA.
Elise Amendola/AP

Several prominent Israeli journalists and social activists reported on Monday that every time a user tried to access their Facebook pages on an Android device, the app crashed. There was no problem visiting the pages of the “victims” on an iPhone or a desktop browser, however.

Facebook has some two billion monthly users, and it’s rare for a large number of users to have trouble accessing a specific page. Normally, problems affect only a particular user.

Left-wing activist Eldad Yaniv, who was one of the victims, charged that this was a targeted cyberattack reminiscent of another, far more famous one: Russia’s intervention in last year’s U.S. presidential campaign.

“This is a very specific attack via a very specific method,” he said. “I spoke to several experts from 8200,” the Israeli army’s premier signals intelligence unit, “and this is a possible attack that costs a lot of money, and it’s complex, and someone is behind it. I’ve been dealing with this since this morning, both with Facebook and with the help of experts, and we’ll try to identify and expose the person who did this.

“It’s clear this will continue; even it ends today, it will recur. We see what’s happening worldwide and understand what Putin did in the U.S. and we understand that it will happen in Israel in the next election campaign on a large scale,” he added, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin. “It’s not connected to Facebook.”

Not content with declaring this a cyberattack, Yaniv even asserted that he knew the culprit: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Israel has one landlord when it comes to cyber issues, and his name is Netanyahu. I’m certain he won’t investigate this.”

He added that should Netanyahu call snap elections in response to the criminal investigations against him, “If he imagines ... that what happened with Putin and America will happen here, he’s making a mistake. There will be a mass mobilization of the best brains, and the elections won’t be stolen, not by cyberattacks,” Yaniv said.

Other victims, however, were far more cautious in assigning blame. One, Haaretz journalist Nir Gontarz, tested various Facebook accounts with his own phone and posted a video of the results. “The upshot: I have no problem entering any profile except those whose names are marked as blocked. It could be just an error, but it’s a very unique error.”

Journalist Tomer Avital, another victim, said someone had broken into his Gmail account as well. “Last week they tried to break into every email account I’ve opened in my life, and now, this morning, I discovered that I’m making Facebook crash. People told me I’ve turned into digital poison.”

The problem has made waves on social media, with many users speculating that it was an attempt at political score-settling. But while other victims included social activist Barak Cohen and journalist Hannah Kim, social media users reported they had also encountered the problem on the profile pages of people who are neither journalists nor social activists.

Facebook said it was investigating the problem.