Elad Ratson, the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s London-based special envoy for digital diplomacy, revealed Monday that Twitter had suspended 61 accounts the ministry says were targeting Israeli voters with fake news ahead of the state’s April 9 elections.
Per Ratson’s count, the total of suspended bot accounts now stands at 343 since elections were first announced in late December 2018. A spreadsheet provided by Ratson shows the majority of accounts were written in English, with three in Arabic, one in Russian and another in German.
Forty-three of the accounts boasted small followings in the single digits, with 10 pages carrying zero followers. Thirteen of the listed accounts only had one follower; seven accounts had two followers; six accounts had three; three accounts had four; two had five followers; and two pages had a meager six followers.
Only four accounts had followings that surpassed the 1,000 mark, with the largest at 15,995 and belonging to a since-deleted account linked to a user named Stripes Girl. That particular account was created on July 16, 2018, and run off of the Hootsuite platform.
Most of the accounts were launched in November 2018, weeks before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition announced on December 24, 2018, that early elections would be held in April.
Although Ratson didn’t offer any information in regards to the origin of the suspended accounts, this isn’t a new phenomenon. In fact, the Post previously reported on a bot network that was targeting journalists in an effort to have them share or report a false story as a means to give it legitimacy. Links offered up to Israeli journalist tied into websites that were made to appear like a legitimate news site.
Haaretz in August 2018 reported on a network examined by Israeli-based investigator Noam Rotem, noting that it was suspected that the bots were being “activated” by Israeli political sources who intended to spread a right-wing message.
A source familiar with the matter previously told the Times of Israel that Twitter had a good standing with the Israeli government when it came to monitoring malicious bots, and as such, would be “doing more work” as Israeli elections get closer.
Earlier this month, the Israeli Foreign Ministry and tech company Commun.it banded together in an effort to create a program that would collect information on accounts that shared fake news, according to the Jerusalem Post, which reported that the app would allow netizens to report fake accounts to officials.
The Post reported that through a cooperation between journalists, researchers and the Foreign Ministry, a total of 282 accounts had been shuttered after investigators were able to provide evidence that showed the accounts were spreading fake content, connected to bots and engaged in bot-like activity.
Ratson’s announcement came moments after Facebook announced on Monday that it would be implementing new tools and restrictions that would help prevent foreign interference and make political ads more transparent ahead of Israeli elections. The Times reported that Facebook’s new measures would be enforced in March.