Was this the opening shot in a foreign election intervention campaign?

Twitter accounts are targeting journalists in an elaborate scam to lead them to share the fake story or even to re-report it.

January 9, 2019 20:07
2 minute read.
Was this the opening shot in a foreign election intervention campaign?

. (photo credit: REUTERS/NACHO DOCE)


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When then-defense minister Avigdor Liberman resigned in November, and it seemed that Israel was about to go to an election, a twitter account began sending journalists fake news stories in an attempt to get them into mainstream media.

This appears to be the opening of a foreign election interference campaign, as Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman warned about this week.

Twitter accounts are targeting journalists in an elaborate scam to lead them to share the fake story or even to re-report it, giving it legitimacy and influencing public opinion.  

Jerusalem Post reporters received links to a website disguised as the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University, purporting to report on comments by ex-Mossad chief Tamir Pardo in which he accuses Liberman of being a Russian spy. Pardo emphatically denied making the statements.

The link is to a .net address, although the Belfer Center’s real web address is www.belfercenter.org. The site was created on November 12 and updated on November 14. It is hosted by namecheap, an online domain name registration service.

The article came from a twitter account named Bina Melamed, who claimed to be from London. The photo used for the account was soon revealed to be of a Turkish real estate agent.

Nearly a month later, "Bina Melamed" changed the account name to "Leakers Without Borders" and sent at least one journalist another false story, that Israeli Ambassador to Sweden Ilan Ben-Dov met with the UN Special Envoy for Yemen. The links to the stories were in Russian and Arabic, and made to look like actual news sites, but with the web address one letter off.

The account also shared tweets from a fake Twitter account for former Shas MK Rabbi Haim Amsalem, encouraging US President Donald Trump wants to convert to Judaism.

In the same period of time, another fake account popped up for IDF Chief Rabbi Eyal Karim. That account had previously held the name Kamel Kamel and its location was in Egypt.

The Foreign Ministry has been working to combat the fake accounts, and the Bina Melamed-turned-Leakers Without Borders, and the fake Karim account have been suspended.

In a warning to journalists in November, 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.”

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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