Facebook and its WhatsApp and Instagram apps have a monopoly on social media. Two billion people use Facebook every month, and according to the Pew Research Center, four out of 10 Americans get their news from it.
Since the November 2016 U.S. election, Facebook’s management has come under growing criticism for the social network’s propagation of rumors, false reports and advertisements that spread xenophobia and smear rivals. This month, Facebook admitted that it didn’t do enough to stop the rumor mill that sparked a genocide in Myanmar. And in recent months, false reports and disinformation against Muslims have been spread in India via WhatsApp.
On Wednesday, it became clear that Moshe Leon’s victory in the second round of the Jerusalem mayoral election, Tuesday, was due in part to an enormous campaign of fake news mounted by his election headquarters against his rival, Ofer Berkovitch (Nir Hasson, Nov. 15). The same day, a fake-new campaign against Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman was discovered (Ran Bar-Zik, Nov. 14), showing that the targets aren’t only “leftists,” as Berkovitch was called by Leon’s troll brigades (though Leon denies responsibility).
These are just two examples of an increasingly common problem, in which politicians and their aides use their Facebook pages, bots, fake websites and slanderous falsehoods sent via WhatsApp and text messages as key tools in their election campaigns. As the events leading to Donald Trump’s election showed, users have trouble distinguishing between truth and fiction, and social media networks have trouble figuring out who is behind such campaigns and who is funding them.
In response to the harsh criticism, Facebook made a major effort to fight fake news during the U.S. midterm elections. Inter alia, it labeled every political ad in America and set up a database that enabled people to find out who was funding these ads. It also hired English-speaking editors whose job was to locate and label false reports.
Granted, this isn’t enough, but even these steps have yet to be taken in the Israeli market. It looks like the “post-truth” era isn’t going anywhere. It’s also clear that fake news in Israel won’t stop at the local elections.
The general election in 2019 is going to be full of false claims, ugly smears and campaigns whose source will be hard to determine. The Central Elections Committee has a responsibility to monitor online campaigns and prevent the dissemination of fake news by any candidate.
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