How new media has once again transformed the Israeli elections - Analysis

Hacking. Misinformation. “Fake news.” Cybersecurity threats.

By
April 10, 2019 01:06
4 minute read.
A fake Facebook post claiming OrlyLevy-Abecassis is quitting the elections

A fake Facebook post claiming OrlyLevy-Abecassis is quitting the elections. (photo credit: screenshot)

 
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A Facebook page posing as a personal profile of Orly Levy-Abecassis posts that the Gesher Party is dropping out of the election.

Twitter suspends dozens of accounts associated with a Chinese Christian sect that are amplifying political messages for Israel’s right-wing politicians.

The Central Elections Committee warns editors to stay alert of fake polls, anonymous content and advertisements before sharing these items on its news platforms. The International Institute of Counter-Terrorism reveals that terrorists are trying to use cyber operations to impact the elections.

Hacking. Misinformation. “Fake news.” Cybersecurity threats.

Digital technology has profoundly altered democratic processes, including elections. And the April 9 Israeli elections were caught in the funnel of a technology tornado, as new media, big data, artificial intelligence and cyber threats surrounded the 100 days of campaigning and potentially even played a role in the election’s final hours.

For starters, a perceived – or actual – lack of integrity, transparency and accountability of information and news at times corrupted the electoral process. Election campaigns have always been about advertising – the more you advertise, the more you succeed. But today, advertising means hiring a really good social media guy and effectively leveraging technology and big data to ensure you get the right message to the right people at the right time.

Politicians are using sophisticated algorithms to play to their bases, allowing them to ignore the rest of their constituents.

TV advertisements? Not so exciting when most of them were already published as YouTube videos before they hit the big screen.

In 2012, when then-US president Barack Obama’s campaign team managed to vacuum up as many as 190 million people’s Facebook data – without their knowledge or consent – giving the former president an unprecedented ability to reach out to non-supporters with carefully targeted campaign messages disguised as messages from friends to millions of Facebook users, it was considered genius and a campaign “game-changer.”

“People don’t trust campaigns,” Teddy Goff, the Obama campaign’s digital director, said at the time. “They don’t even trust media organizations. Who do they trust? Their friends.”

Today, such a move is not only obvious, despite Facebook’s new privacy laws, but expected.


WE UNDERSTAND the power of the echo chamber, which includes not only one’s friends but also news sources. In a homophilic network aligned to one’s worldview or preference, voters see their position as being more widely supported than it actually is, causing them to become further entrenched in their position and more likely to vote based on the “bandwagon effect” than actual knowledge.

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Prof. Kobi Gal said in a previous interview that this bandwagon effect likely plays heavily into people’s voting decisions. The bandwagon effect is a psychological phenomenon in which people do something primarily because other people are doing it, even to the extent that they may ignore or override their own personal beliefs or preferences.

Gal also said that as people become more partisan in their views, they see pollsters as their enemies and therefore might choose to falsify who they are planning to vote for, rendering polls inaccurate. Further, it is also more difficult to get a representative sample of the population today than it used to be. Though there is more connectivity, the means of communication are less personal, making it more difficult to understand what kind of population is being polled.

Technology takes immediate effect. On Tuesday, when Blue and White’s Benny Gantz left the voting booth, he stopped to help an individual injured in a motorcycle accident on Highway 4 between Rishon Lezion and Ashdod. A passerby with a smartphone snapped a video and the clip went viral, sending a message about the former IDF chief of staff that could have impacted voters’ decisions at that moment.

Likewise, late Tuesday, not only did Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu go to the beach in Netanya to tell people to get off the beach and vote, he tweeted an emergency message that he was canceling an evening campaign event to return to Jerusalem and “save the Right” and ensure that a right-wing government comes to power following the elections.

Within seconds, The Jerusalem Post, for example, saw this tweet and shared it with its readers. One of them picked it up and put it on his own news reference platform, garnering the article hundreds of thousands of clicks in minutes.

Did this and other such examples impact election results?

And perhaps what is most striking is that if we think technology altered this election, we can expect elections to change a lot more next time. Who knows? By the time of the next Knesset election, maybe election propaganda will be delivered by drone? Could robots campaign instead of candidates? Will holograms deliver campaign speeches?

Remember Labor’s Shabbat bus? No need to rile up the troops and take to the streets... Labor could just rent some self-driving cars. Maybe a rabbi will say self-driving cars won’t even be considered in violation of the laws of Shabbat.

At the same time, as we close this campaign and prepare to form a coalition, we should already be thinking about how the Start-Up Nation can handle technology better. Before the next election, we should put in place better systems to protect voter privacy, for example.

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