Fake Facebook accounts boost campaign opposing U.S. consulate in Jerusalem

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A prominent Israeli politician’s lobbying campaign against the reopening of the US consulate in East Jerusalem to Palestinians has been fueled by a network of fake accounts on Facebook, according to research shared with Granthshala News.

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Politician, former Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat, a challenger to replace Benjamin Netanyahu Israeli opposition leader, Likud has spent time in Washington in recent months and lobbied lawmakers not to reopen The consulate that was closed by former President Donald Trump in 2019 after his administration Recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,

The office provided consular services to Palestinian residents in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. President Joe Biden was sworn in when he used it to reopen the consulate and rebuild diplomatic relations with the Palestinians.

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Since August, Barkat’s Facebook posts about the issue include photos of Barkat with members of Congress, like Sense. ted cruz, R-Texas, and Lindsey Graham, RC, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, has been shared by a network of at least 320 accounts that have been determined to be fake by an Israeli disinformation research company. fake reporter, Such bogus engagement can shape public perceptions of a politician’s popularity and play down Facebook’s News Feed algorithm, so that posts can organically reach a much larger audience, the researchers said.

He said the research highlights Facebook’s failure to effectively crack down on unauthenticated networks that fuel political campaigns.

Former Jerusalem Mayor Neer Barkat during an interview at his home in Jerusalem on October 6. Nir Elias / Reuters File
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“We believe this work is vital to our lives as citizens and democracies,” said Achia Schatz, executive director of FakeReporter. “It’s disappointing that companies like Facebook, who have so much authority over democracies, are doing nothing more to protect us and preserve the spaces they create. To no avail.”

Schatz said his team suspects, based on the complexity of the profiles’ behavior, that the network is made up of so-called sock puppet accounts, controlled and centrally deployed by humans, possibly working for a digital agency. Which allows customers to pay to boost their digital popularity instead of a fully automated bot.

The offices of Cruz, McCarthy and Graham did not respond to requests for comment.

Facebook faces increasing scrutiny from members of Congress after substantial leaks of internal posts and documents wall street journal and a consortium of media organizations, as well as Congress and the Securities and Exchange Commission. Documents released by Frances Haugen, a whistleblower and former Facebook employee, revealed how Facebook has struggled to police its platform for harmful content.

Margarita Franklin, a spokeswoman for Facebook’s parent company Meta, stressed that the company has made efforts to address unauthenticated behavior on the platform.

“We have removed most of these accounts for fake likes and shares that Granthshala News shared with Facebook,” said Franklin, referring to the network identified by FakeReporter. Many go after unauthenticated activities – from fake engagements to sophisticated influence operations.”

She said it could be difficult, if not impossible, to prove whether the beneficiary of such a bogus engagement — Barkat in this case — was paying for it, as the transaction was based on Facebook. It must have happened outside the platform.

great impact

As accounts deemed unauthenticated by FakeReporter began promoting Barkat’s posts by sharing and liking them, the average number of monthly shares on his Facebook posts increased from 111 to 675 of his posts over the past three years. Has been. That, the researchers say, creates a false impression of political support in Israel for their lobbying activities.

FakeReporter researchers believe posts artificially amplified by the network paint a picture of Barkat Cruz shaking hands at a meeting in September, In the caption, Barkat said they discussed “the danger of setting up a Palestinian consulate in Jerusalem”. The post was shared more than 1,200 times, but due to user and group privacy settings on Facebook, the researchers were able to see only a small fraction of the shares. FakeReporter manually reviewed 150 shares and found that they were all from accounts that were set to be part of the network.

Barkat’s spokesman Josh Drill denied any connection to the network’s activities.

He said, “Neer Barkat, who is leading the fight against the opening of a US consulate for Palestinians in Jerusalem, has no need for such services and has never used fake accounts, as false The claim has been asserted,” he said. “Barkat conducts his campaign against the division of Jerusalem through meetings with dozens of senators and members of Congress and expresses his position in the international media, which is viewed by millions.”

He added that Barkat’s Facebook page has “over 180,000 likes and hundreds of comments and shares on every post.”

The former US consulate in Jerusalem on 27 October. Ahmed Gharbali / AFP via Getty Images

global network

FakeReporter’s research, which was also shared with Israeli newspaper Maariv, shows how most of the accounts in the network were created in a single week in August 2018 and belonged to users in Nepal with local usernames, languages ​​and interests. In the summer of 2019, the accounts were changed to show Israeli profiles with Hebrew names, profile pictures, and interests.

In some cases, accounts still appear to have explicit Nepali profile pictures and claim to be Israeli users alongside the photographs. Others use profile photos generated by artificial intelligence-powered tools like this person does not exist Or real photos taken from Russian escort sites. There is a clear gender mismatch between Hebrew names and profile pictures in many profiles. In some cases, fake accounts have been created using the identities of Israelis whose names are completely unique – discovered by cross-referencing names with a Leaked National Voters Registry,

Accounts in the network mostly follow each other and have promoted the same Israeli businesses and products content, including a nail salon, a children’s book, and an interior design company. Schatz said this indicates the network is available to rent by customers wishing to promote their digital presence.

other matters

Before promoting Barkat’s posts, the network also promoted a project Building a wind farm in northern Israel, which attracted widespread protests from residents. FakeReporter noticed this week that profiles in the network are writing the post after defending an ultra-Orthodox writer, Haim Welder. Three women allege he sexually assaulted them – Allegations that Welder denied in a statement to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. He did not respond to a request for comment through his lawyer.

FakeReporter had identified a part of the same network as Appeared to promote the content of another Israeli politician, Orly Levy-Abaeksis, in July. FakeReporter reported more than 180 accounts to Facebook at the time, and the company removed 83 percent of them.

Levi-Abaeksis denied any connection to the network’s activities in a statement to Israel. Business Publishing Calcalist,

Schatz said: “Tactics like this are attacking every aspect of life for Israeli citizens. If we can’t process valid and reliable information, then we are being judged on false information. This one The idea of ​​competition in a democracy is an attack on the very foundations of what we want.”

facebook problem

FakeReporter’s research echoes findings uncovered by former Facebook data scientist Sophie Zhang, a whistleblower Who in the internal memorandum of September 2020 Described how a network identified by FakeReporter such as Fake Join can be used distorted global politics, Zhang had spent several months discovering and internally reporting suspected networks promoting political content on Facebook. Honduras, Azerbaijan, Mexico, Italy and other countries.

“Sometimes the appearance of popularity can be more important than popularity,” said Zhang, who said it was usually an issue in “authoritarian countries or small countries.”

Sophie Zhang.Granthshala News

When FakeReporter researchers shared their previous findings with Facebook over email in July, they characterized the activity as suspicious “coordinated unauthenticated behavior,” a term Facebook uses to describe covert influence operations. Including complex fakes designed to mislead people as to who is behind the operation. Manipulating public debate for strategic goals.

However, according to emails exchanged between Facebook and the researchers, which were reviewed by Granthshala News, Facebook said the activity does not meet the threshold for coordinated unproven behavior and is instead an example of fake engagement, Which is when people or businesses pay for services to make their content more popular in general – even if the beneficiary of boosting engagement was a politician.

“It’s an artificial distinction, and the effect on the public is the same,” Schatz said. “In the end, it’s ‘Are we, the users, getting hurt or not? Are we safe or not?’ That’s what the public cares about.”

Facebook whistleblower Zhang said the distinction within Facebook between fake engagement and coordinated unproven behavior on political content was “very arbitrary”.

“But with fake engagement it can be more difficult to find evidence that a politician is knowledgeable or responsible for dehumanizing behavior, which is probably why Facebook is becoming cautious about it,” she said.

Facebook said it removes accounts whether they are classified as having internally coordinated unproven behavior or fake engagement, but it usually spends more time investigating the former because of the complexity of the behavior. The company also promotes coordinated inauthentic behavior removal on his blog.

Disruption expert Emerson Brooking, a resident senior fellow in the Digital Forensic Research Lab at the Atlantic Council, a non-profit think tank, agreed that it is difficult to determine who paid for such counterfeit engagement.

“But it seems like a potentially different treatment for different countries,” he said. “If this was a Russian or Iranian campaign in which past spam commercial assets have been turned into false amplification for political purposes, I would think [Facebook] Will take them more seriously.”

Facebook denies that it has been more lenient with some countries, pointing to Past removals of Israeli accounts for coordinated unproven behavior.

Brooking said that regardless of how Facebook classified the activity, it is a “foreign spam network that is ultimately trying to influence US citizens and US policy.”

“It’s not good for our democracy,” he said.

Credit: www.nbcnews.com /

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