Facebook removes 30 fake profiles seeking to suppress Arab Israeli vote
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Facebook removes 30 fake profiles seeking to suppress Arab Israeli vote

Watchdog group flagged dozens of fake users, says they are part of ‘organized, funded effort by body with an interest in lowering Arab voting rates’

In this file photo from March 29, 2018, the logo for Facebook appears on screens at the Nasdaq MarketSite, in New York's Times Square. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)
In this file photo from March 29, 2018, the logo for Facebook appears on screens at the Nasdaq MarketSite, in New York's Times Square. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

Facebook has removed 30 fake profiles on its platform that sought to suppress the Arab vote in next week’s national election, the social media company and an Israeli watchdog group said Tuesday.

The Democratic Bloc organization said it notified Facebook of 32 Arabic language profiles that it had identified as potentially fake, after reviewing thousands of posts and responses. It said the profiles in question encouraged a boycott of the election and purveyed a sense of gloom and distrust in the political process.

Though some such opinions were expressed by real people, the group stressed, it focused its work only on “vote suppression disguised as genuine.”

Facebook confirmed that it had been contacted by the group, reviewed the profiles in question and removed 30 of them that were identified as inauthentic.

The Democratic Bloc said half of those profiles regularly posted on the page of MK Ayman Odeh, head of the predominantly Arab Joint List alliance.

Leader of the Joint List MK Ayman Odeh attends a press conference in front of the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, November 3, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

It was not clear who was behind the effort, but the Democratic Bloc noted that it had identified 82 such profiles, which Facebook then removed, prior to the September 2019 election.

“We believe this is not a coincidence, but an organized, guided and funded effort behind which stands a body with an interest in lowering voting rates in the Arab public,” the group said.

In recent years, Facebook has been battling manipulation and disinformation on its platform, particularly surrounding elections around the world.

The social network says it has invested heavily in finding and taking down accounts crafted to deceive people about where information is originating, particularly when spread as part of coordinated campaigns with political or social agendas.

In November, Facebook said it had closed down 5.4 billion fake accounts in 2019.

“We can estimate that every day, we prevent millions of attempts to create fake accounts.”

Arab Israelis vote during Israel’s parliamentary election at a polling station in Kafr Manda near Haifa on September 17, 2019. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

Also ahead of September’s election, Facebook suspended a chatbot operated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official page for 24 hours over hate speech after it warned visitors of a possible “secular left-wing weak government that relies on Arabs who want to destroy us all — women, children and men.”

Netanyahu later said he did not share that view of Arabs, and said the bot’s message wasn’t written by him. “When the content was brought to his attention, he asked that it be taken down immediately.”

His Likud party has been accused of seeking to depress the Arab vote by installing cameras in Arab polling stations, ostensibly to prevent voter fraud.

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