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Muslim congresswomen targeted by Israeli-based far-right fake news operation

27th Dec 2019
Muslim congresswomen targeted by Israeli-based far-right fake news operation

Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar (Credit: Congressional Portraits/Congress CC)

Elham Asaad Buaras

Democrat Muslim congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib have been besieged by a large global ‘mysterious Israeli-based group’ that exploits far-right pages on Facebook to provoke ‘Islamophobia for profit’, according to a Facebook exposé by the Guardian on December 5.

‘A mysterious Israeli-based group uses 21 Facebook pages to churn out more than a thousand coordinated fake news posts per week to more than a million followers around the world. It milks the traffic for revenue from digital advertising,’ according to the report.

The uncovering of the network will fuel concerns that Facebook is failing to tackle disinformation and hate groups ahead of next year’s presidential election. With over 1,400 posts since the network began two years ago, Omar of Minnesota is the most targeted and Tlaib of Michigan, who is of Palestinian origin, has been mentioned nearly 1,200 times. Both totals are far higher than any other member of Congress.

The Guardian exposed contacts between a group of Israel-based accounts and 21 far-right Facebook pages across the US, Australia, the UK, Canada, Austria, Israel, and Nigeria.
The posts exacerbate Islamophobia by amplifying far-right parties and vilifying Muslim and left-wing politicians. Their content is a blend of distorted news and pure fabrication.
An analysis by Queensland University of Technology’s digital media research centre indicated a single entity is coordinating the publication of content across the Facebook pages.

The Guardian named Ariel Elkaras, a Jewelry salesman from Tel Aviv, Israel, as the key figure in the network. Several of the network’s websites were removed and content when the Guardian contacted the Israeli for comment.

The Council on American-Islamic Relation say they are unsurprised by the expose, explaining that spreading fake news through “pre-networked social media accounts and pseudo-news websites has been the preferred tactic of the Islamophobia industry for a very long time.” And that such operations impact “political climate, actual laws, policies and overall culture.”

Somali-born Omar, the first Congresswoman to wear a hijab in the chamber, has been subject to hundreds of online death threats. In September, she accused Trump of putting her life at risk after the president re-tweeted a post that falsely claimed she partied on the anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Omar told the Guardian, “Foreign interference – whether by individuals or governments – is still a grave threat to our democracy. These are malicious actors operating in a foreign country, Israel, spreading misinformation and hate speech to influence elections in the US.
The goal of these anti-Muslim hate campaigns is clear – they put Muslim lives here and around the world at risk and undermine our country’s commitment to religious pluralism.”
She also slammed Facebook’s “complacency” in allowing users to spread misinformation which she called “a threat to our democracy.”

“It has become clear that they do not take seriously the degree to which they provide a platform for white nationalist hate and dangerous. And there is a clear reason for this: they profit off it.”

“When private corporations don’t act, we as a nation need to think seriously about ways to address the spread of misinformation while protecting core values like free speech.”

Facebook has since removed several pages and accounts. A spokesman for the company said, “These pages and accounts violated our policy against spam and fake accounts by posting clickbait content to drive people to off-platform sites/We don’t allow people to misrepresent themselves on Facebook, and we’ve updated our inauthentic behaviour policy to further improve our ability to counter new tactics. Our investigations are continuing and, as always, we’ll take action if we find any violations.”

 

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