New bot reporting mechanism aims to thwart election fiddling

With only 26 days until Israelis head to the ballots, the organizations are calling on web users to use the tool to prevent improper influence and maintain fair electoral discourse online.

By
March 14, 2019 17:18
2 minute read.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey reads a statement from his phone

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey reads a statement from his phone while testifying before the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on Twitter's algorithms and content monitoring. (photo credit: REUTERS/CHRIS WATTIE)

 
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A new online reporting mechanism to thwart attempted electoral interference, whether domestic or foreign, by anonymous bots has been launched ahead of the April 9 elections to the Knesset.

A dedicated Hebrew-language web page set up by the Israel Internet Association, the Israel Democracy Institute and the Law, Technology & Cyber Legal Clinic at the University of Haifa enables the public to report Internet “bots” (automated profiles), fake accounts and anonymous campaigning on social media networks.

With only 26 days until Israelis head to the ballots, the organizations are calling on web users to use the tool to prevent improper influence and maintain fair electoral discourse online.

The threat of social media-based political interference hit the headlines during both the 2016 US presidential elections and Brexit referendum, with subsequent research showing that Twitter bots may have contributed to the vote outcomes.

Wary of potential interference by state and non-state actors through social media, Facebook announced in January that it would be launching new political advertising transparency tools to help prevent interference in Israel’s general election, and make electoral advertising on Facebook more transparent.

“In recent years we have seen in various countries an increasing trend of improper interference in elections – both externally by foreign countries and internally by politicians and campaigners,” said Prof. Karine Nahon, president of the Israel Internet Association. “This joint venture is part of the toolbox for preventing election bias, which we are trying to promote for the benefit of the public.”

Through the website (http://bit.ly/Botreport), users can report suspected bots, false profiles and anonymous propaganda. The ban on publishing anonymous materials follows a decision by Central Elections Committee chairman Justice Hanan Melcer to prohibit electoral campaigning without identification of those behind it.

While users can report improper interference directly to social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, complaints issued via the new website will be prioritized and forwarded directly to relevant authorities. All information submitted via the website will also be examined by the organizations behind the initiative, and will be reported to the police or Central Elections Committee if necessary.

“The Central Elections Committee’s decision is a dramatic and important one that will put an end to the Wild West that has developed in electoral campaigning on social networks,” said Dr. Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler, head of the Media Reform Program at the Israel Democracy Institute.

“If there is anything that can be learned from elections in recent years in other countries, it is that influence through digital manipulation can distort results. Being alert to the possibility of unwanted interference in elections can prevent or minimize these manipulations.”

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