Mysterious Israeli-based group is using Facebook pages to spread fake news and target politicians
- A Guardian investigation finds that a 'mysterious' Israeli-based group is coordinating with over 21 Facebook pages to spread fake news.
- The group has over a million followers and even makes money from digital advertising.
- It has come under the scanner for targeting two US politicians, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar — members of 'the squad' — with posts islamophobic posts.
An investigation by the Guardian finds that not only does the group have over a million followers helping circulate thousands of fake news posts that go out every week — but it's also making money off of it.
The more traffic the pages generate, the more revenue they gain from digital advertising. And, they've been at it for over two years. Their pages aren't restricted to the US but span to other countries like Australia, the UK, Canada, Israel, and Nigeria.
Fake Facebook posts amplifying Islamophobia
Most of the posts by the Israeli-based group are aimed at amplifying Ismaphobia by focusing on celebrating comments from far-right parties while disparaging Muslim and left-wing politicians.
Similarly, BBC's investigation found the ' hyper-nationalism' was behind the fake news menace in India last year.
The group in question been targetting two US politicians in particular — Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar — who are the first Muslim women to serve in the US Congress. They're both known as members of ' the squad', a group of progressive women of color in US politics.
So, in addition to being at the receiving end of US President Donald Trump's racist comments — like calling Tlaib a ' lunatic' — they're also being trolled online for fake posts. Omar is the group's most frequent target with over 1,400 posts mentioning her. Tlaib has been mentioned in around 1,200 posts, according to Guardian's report.
"As this report makes clear, foreign interference – whether by individuals or governments – is still a grave threat to our democracy. These are malicious actors operating in a foreign country, Israel, spreading misinformation and hate speech to influence elections in the United States," Omar told the Guardian.
Shedding light on the shadowed the group
The Queensland University of Technology's digital media research center was able to determine that a single entity was coordinating most of the posts. And the Guardian thinks its a 30-something jeweler in Tel Aviv - Ariel Elkaras.
Several posts across the network, including public posts on his Facebook profile page, were taken down after the Guardian approached Elkaras for a comment. When they were finally able to get to him, he said, "It's nothing related to me."
And, what did Facebook do?
Facebook did what it always does — removed the pages but only after being alerted to their existence. According to them the reason for removing those pages were that they "appeared to be financially motivated."
The Guardian investigation doesn't only point to partisan forces spreading misinformation but also to how a platform like Facebook is still being used to influence electoral opinion.
"Our investigations are continuing and, as always, we'll take action if we find any violations," said Facebook.
Despite the social network's assurances of putting safeguards in place — like its famous 'war rooms' and partnering with fact-checking institutions — bad actors are still able to find their way through. The upcoming election season in the US will only escalate the pace of fake news.
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