Bots and trolls showed AG as ‘weak’ in run-up to PM indictment announcement

Bots and trolls showed AG as ‘weak’ in run-up to PM indictment announcement

Netanyahu’s chief rival, Benny Gantz, continues to be target of most fake news, according to the Vocativ media company, including false charge that he hit disabled protester

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends a State Control committee meeting in the Knesset on December 3, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends a State Control committee meeting in the Knesset on December 3, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Bots and trolls have been busy over the past week trying to convince the Israeli public that the attorney general is a weak person being pressured by the State Prosecutor’s Office to issue indictments against the prime minister in order to harm the Likud party, and the premier in particular, in the run up to Israel’s April 9 elections, a media company said Thursday.

Vocativ, owned by Israeli tech investor Motti Kochavi, is currently issuing weekly reports on fake news.

In its latest report, the media company found that the indictment issue was mentioned many times in bot and troll networks over the past seven days.

Bots are pieces of computer code that look like the accounts of real people and that suddenly appear in large numbers to support or delegitimize targets online. Trolls are people, usually paid, who post inflammatory material on the internet.

On Thursday evening, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced the intention to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for criminal wrongdoing in three separate cases against him, including bribery in the far-reaching Bezeq corruption probe, pending a hearing.

Fake news in general dropped by three percent over the past week, compared with the week before, Vocativ found, though for the fifth week running, Netanyahu’s chief rival Benny Gantz, of the newly-established Blue and White party, has been the target of the most negative fake news, which some 1.7 million Israelis could have seen.

The main fake news item directed at Gantz claimed that the former IDF chief of staff had threatened and attacked a disabled protester.

With the formal launch of Blue and White earlier this month, the party’s Moshe Ya’alon and Gabi Ashkenazi, both former army chiefs of staff, have also become targets for fake news, Vocativ reported.

From left to right: Blue and White party leaders Moshe Ya’alon, Benny Gantz , Yair Lapid and Gabi Ashkenazi announcing their new electoral alliance in Tel Aviv on February 21, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Netanyahu, too, has been subjected to fake coverage. A fake screenshot, posing as Channel 12 news, depicted him in conversation with Arnon “Noni” Mozes, owner of the mass circulation newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth.

Case 2000, in which Netanyahu is to be charged with fraud and breach of trust, subject to a hearing, involves a suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Mozes that would have seen the prime minister weaken a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed freebie Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.

The false TV segment included an admission of alleged bribery as well as the false claim that the Zionist Union — the former coalition between the Labor Party and retiring lawmaker Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah — had made a surplus vote agreement with the Arab parties, then part of the Joint List, in the run-up to the last elections in 2015.

Another subject popular over the last week among bots and trolls has to do with the claim that Blue and White is being supported by the Arab parties, and that the party is being controlled by Mozes.

Left, Bezalel Smotrich and Rafi Peretz posing after agreeing to form a joint Jewish Home National Union Knesset slate February 14, 2019. (Courtesy) Right, Otzma Yehudit party chair Michael Ben Ari (R) seen with Itamar Ben Gvir at the party’s inaugural election conference in Petah Tikva, on December 24, 2014, (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)

On the margins of the bot content in recent days has been the claim that Netanyahu supports Kahanists — disciples of the late anti-Arab firebrand, Meir Kahane.

It was under pressure from Netanyahu that the right-wing Jewish Home party agreed earlier this month to enter into an election alliance with the Kahanist faction, Otzma Yehudit (Jewish power).

According to Vocativ, Netanyahu was mentioned by 36,326 bots and trolls over the past week (not all necessarily fake), with Gantz cited in 17,870.

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