Russia’s ‘Doppelganger’ Pivots to Israel-Hamas War

I wrote last week about revelations that an Israeli ‘political marketing’ firm had run a covert social media manipulation campaign to drum up support for Israel’s war in Gaza. But Israel isn’t the only nation implicated in online ‘information wars’. For Russia, the Israel-Hamas war is too good an opportunity to miss to wreak havoc online and sow division worldwide.

At this point, to say Russia is notorious for meddling with internet media and online spaces would be an understatement. Their involvement in the 2016 US Presidential election takes the cake for infamy, but Kremlin backed ‘bots’ churn through social media platforms every day, promoting Putin’s agendas and doing their damnedest to create polarisation in the West.

‘Doppelganger’ is the name given to a widespread disinformation campaign Russia set up to undermine Ukraine in their long-standing annexation efforts. But it has recently been redirected to a new target: the war in Gaza.

A significant part of Doppelganger’s modus operandi is to publish and promote fake news articles. These stories are uploaded to websites that are identical in almost every way to reputable publications like the French daily Le Parisien, or the Washington Post – the only red flag being slight variations to URLs.

The false articles mostly criticise Western actions in relation to the war, such as a fake version of “Le Parisien” article asserting Macron has “the blood of Palestinians on his hands”. Another, this time mimicking the Washington Post, proclaimed “Soros Pays $30/Hour for Anti-Semitism”.

One recent such incident took place in France, where ‘Kremlinbots’ helped mass promote photos of Stars of David graffitied across buildings in Paris. The tweets were captioned “Jewish pogroms are already knocking at the neighbours’ doors. Are you ready for it to be your house next?”

However, when four individuals were arrested as the suspected perpetrators behind more than 250 such Stars, two of them claimed they were acting on the orders – and the money – of an anonymous Russian official. While an official link between the incident and the Doppelganger operation has not been established, the potential association reflects the depth of Russia’s efforts to exacerbate tensions over the war.