Israel’s Social Media Influence Campaign Latest in Growing Trend

This month has seen the exposure of a social media campaign attempting to influence American lawmakers and citizens to support Israel’s war in Gaza, allegedly backed by the Israeli government itself. It’s the latest example of a growing trend, with social media platforms emerging as key battlegrounds for states to promote political agendas.

At the start of June, the New York Times published reported it had verified rumours that the Israeli Ministry of Diaspora Affairs had commissioned a “covert campaign” to spread pro-Israel messaging on platforms including Facebook, Instagram and X.

The campaign was first uncovered in March by the Israeli misinformation watchdog, FakeReporter. The organisation then claimed that the Tel Aviv-based ‘political marketing’ company Stoic had been given $2 million by Israel to generate comments and posts supporting the IDF and the continuation of the war in Gaza.

In line with mass callouts for ‘digital soldiers’ to dozens of Israeli tech start-ups following Hamas’ attack, Stoic’s operation also began back in October. At its peak, it involved hundreds of fake accounts posing as American students, concerned citizens, and local constituents of targeted politicians. FakeReporter identified that the chosen lawmakers skewed heavily toward Democrats and Black Americans, such as House minority leader Hakeem Jeffries (Dem.-NY), and Georgian Senator Raphael Warnock.

For example, fake accounts posted comments on Jeffries’ Facebook page asking if he had seen reports that the UN was employing Hamas members in Gaza. WIRED reports that the accounts also used BLM hashtags and posted fabricated Martin Luther King Jr. quotes in support of Zionism.The operation also involved the creation of three fake English-language news sites dedicated to publishing pro-Israel articles.

Meta confirmed they had disrupted Stoic’s operation at the start of the month, removing over 500 accounts connected with the operation. OpenAI said they’d also discovered Stoic had used ChatGPT to create fake accounts and generate the posts in question, and to generate similar material to influence India’s general election. Both organisations maintain the operation had a limited impact, with bot accounts failing to reach a significant audience.

Stoic has been banned from Facebook, and Facebook and Instagram posts and accounts involved have been removed by Meta, though they remain on X – Elon Musk has declined to comment on the situation.

The involvement of the Israeli government had remained unverified until the New York Times’ investigation, which asserts four current and former members of the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, as well as relevant documents, confirmed the government’s hand in the scheme. The Ministry denies any involvement with Stoic or its operations, disparaging claims to the contrary as “completely unfounded and inaccurate.”

FakeReporter’s CEO, Achiya Schatz, called the operation “irresponsible, reckless, and anti-democratic”, stating that “if Israel does not wish to be victims of foreign interventions, it must refrain from carrying them out by itself.” He went on to add that “Israelis should be worried because we can find ourselves easily targeted by these kinds of tools.”

And it’s true that social media has emerged as one of the 21st century’s most important arenas for states to influence audiences at home and abroad. Russia is perhaps most famous for the tactic, given their meddling in the 2016 US Presidential election. China has recently come under scrutiny for allegations it uses TikTok to promote its agendas. Iran and North Korea – and the US – are generally believed to engage in similar efforts; though usually through third parties. In short, it has never been more important to practice and teach media literacy, as AI enables the rapid scaling of influence campaigns through bots that will only get more sophisticated. Of course, the Pro-Palestinian movement also uses fake news and misinformation to support its cause.

Cover image by is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

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