A bot network, suspected of being run by Iran or another foreign entity, published the personal information of Israeli police officers while impersonating the organizers of the anti-judicial reform protest movement in an attempt to spark division in Israeli society, according to an investigation by the FakeReporter watchdog published on Saturday.
Israel Police stated later in the night that it had also found that network was seemingly being run by foreign entity as an attempt to cause strife in Israeli society.
The bot network, which calls itself "The Trial of Traitors," operates on Twitter, Telegram and an Israeli platform called Drove.
חשיפה: פרטי שוטרים וגניבת זהות של אזרחים במבצע השפעה החשוד כזר - מפילים בפח את השר לביטחון לאומיאלפי ציוצים המובילים לחשיפת פרטים שוטרים וקריאה לפעולה נגדם מציפים את הפיד במבצע רחב היקף. הרשת הצליחה להפיל במלכודתה ישראלים רבים, ביניהם בן גביר, שהגדירה כפעילות מתנגדי רפורמה pic.twitter.com/a3pdfp5AD6— פייק ריפורטר | FakeReporter (@FakeReporter) June 10, 2023
Investigators from FakeReporter found a number of signs that the "members" of the network are just a collection of bots and not actual people, including the fact that a petition by the network received thousands of anonymous signatures within a matter of minutes and the fact that thousands of social media profiles tweeted the same exact content in a span of a few seconds.
FakeReporter received dozens of reports from protest activists and Twitter users about the fake profiles.
The fake accounts and the Telegram channel run by the bot network writes in broken Hebrew, misspelling words and using incorrect grammar consistently as well. FakeReporter stated that the bot network is suspected of being Iranian-run, although it did not explain how it reached this conclusion in its report.
Many Israelis fell for the suspected foreign-run influence operation, including National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, whose ministry is responsible for the police.
"The opponents of the reform are crossing another red and dangerous line," wrote Ben-Gvir while sharing a screenshot of the Telegram channel. "In recent days they have been publishing photos of police officers along with their personal phone numbers. They are trying to threaten police officers and prevent them from doing their job. This is a serious and dangerous crossing of the line aimed at harassing and hurting the police officers and their families. I fully support the police officers."
After police issued a statement about the network being seemingly run by a foreign entity, Ben-Gvir tweeted "I have received an update from defense officials about the suspicion that the tweets against the police are from a foreign country. I am hopeful that these tweets are indeed not from us (even though the involvement of a foreign country is extremely serious) I will always continue to support the police in the face of attacks against them."
Past disinformation efforts by Iran
Iran and other states have repeatedly conducted disinformation campaigns to provoke hatred and fear in Israel and around the world.
During Operation Guardian of the Walls, an Iranian disinformation unit reportedly created a social media campaign targeting ultra-Orthodox Jews with hate speech, according to the BBC and FakeReporter.
Ahead of the Israeli elections in 2021, FakeReporter reported that they had uncovered an Iran-linked network impersonating political and social activists, spreading incendiary propaganda and contacting Israeli citizens on social media.