Fake social media accounts working to help Netanyahu reelection bid, report finds

Hundreds of fake social media accounts are working together to help Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party, a report by an Israeli watchdog group found. Photo: rvlsoft/iStock

Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Hundreds of social media accounts, many of them fake, are working together to help the re-election efforts of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party, an Israeli watchdog group found.

The group, called the Big Bots Project, found no links between the network of social media accounts and Netanyahu or Likud in its report. The New York Times saw an advance copy of the report,  due to be released Monday.

Some 154 of the accounts in the network use fake names and another 400 are suspected of being fake but appear to be operated by actual people, which makes them harder to detect, according to the report. Their posts, all in Hebrew, have had over 2.5 million hits.

Their messages have been retweeted and reposted on Facebook by Likud campaign officials and Netanyahu’s son, Yair.

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The network could violate Israeli laws pertaining to elections, campaign finance, privacy and taxation, according to the report.

A Likud spokesman told The Times that the party does not run a network of fake accounts.

“All of the Likud’s digital activity is entirely authentic,” Jonathan Urich said, “and is based on the great support of the citizens of Israel for Prime Minister Netanyahu and the great achievements of the Likud.”

The report was written by Noam Rotem and Yuval Adam, founders of the Big Bots Project. Their investigation was assisted by the Israeli Alliance, a liberal group calling for social change in Israel, and financed through an Israeli online crowdfunding site, Drove.