Foreign Ministry working to combat fake news bots

A since-removed twitter account sent the link to journalists shortly after Liberman resigned. The account was named Bina Melamed, but used the photo of a Turkish real estate agent.

November 29, 2018 15:48
2 minute read.
Foreign Ministry working to combat fake news bots

. (photo credit: REUTERS/NACHO DOCE)


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The Foreign Ministry is working to combat fake accounts that have been targeting journalists with fabricated news stories to try to influence the Israeli public, The Jerusalem Post learned on Thursday.

For the past nine months, the Foreign Ministry’s Research and Development department has been investigating sources and tactics of fake news on social media, and has now sent a warning to many Israeli journalists who use Twitter.

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The warning came after the Post was the first to report on a scam in which a website built to look like that of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University reported that ex-Mossad chief Tamir Pardo accused former defense minister Avigdor Liberman of being a Russian spy.

A since-removed Twitter account sent the link to journalists shortly after Liberman resigned. The account was named Bina Melamed, but used the photo of a Turkish real estate agent. The former Mossad chief denied saying anything of the sort.
Other journalists were targeted with false news stories in recent months, including one that said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s son Yair was investing in Dubai and another that claimed US President Donald Trump is secretly Jewish.

In its warning to journalists, the Foreign Ministry explained, “The modes of action to influence the political discourse in Israel are similar to those that were seen in the elections in the United States, the vote on Brexit in the United Kingdom and the elections in France. Their preferred network is Twitter, which is seen as a social media of influencers and opinion leaders.

“Their method is, one, to post a fake story in the format of an article on a dubious website; two, sending a link to an article from a fictitious Twitter account to a group of journalists, either in a private message or in response to a tweet from the journalist; three, using a bot network.”

The goal of these actions is to lead a reporter to share the fake story or even to re-report it, giving it legitimacy in the public sphere.

The Foreign Ministry has had some successes in fighting the phenomenon. A network of 142 foreign twitter bots tweeting about Netanyahu – some in favor, some opposed, but all in broken Hebrew or English – was removed by Twitter after the Foreign Ministry presented the company with information on them reported in Calcalist.

In addition, they are working with experts internally, and external technology experts to analyze millions of data points on the fake content.

Because journalists are the top target for these scams, the Foreign Ministry sent a message asking many of them to report fake news and bot accounts on social media, so they can collect more data and present them to Twitter.

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