Facebook says Iranian fake news network sought to back anti-Netanyahu protests

Social media giant says it removed fake Hebrew accounts; Likud in reaction: Iran and demonstrators have ‘shared’ goal of unseating Netanyahu; protest group blasts ‘incitement’

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

Facebook said Thursday night it had removed a network of Facebook and Instagram accounts involved in a deception campaign targeting Israelis, including some supporting the popular protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The social media company said it deleted “12 Facebook accounts, two Pages and 307 Instagram accounts linked to individuals associated with EITRC, a Tehran-based IT company. This activity originated in Iran and targeted primarily Israel, and also Iraq. This network was early in its audience building when we removed it.”

It included memes, images and other content in Hebrew and Arabic, including “anti-Prime Minister Netanyahu protests in Israel, criticism of his policies and response to the pandemic.”

One such account was called “Black flags II,” in reference to the Israel Black Flags protest movement, one of the leading groups in the ongoing mass demonstrations against Netanyahu over his corruption charges and attacks on democratic institutions.

Facebook also said it removed a second network originating in Iran, whose accounts “focused on Saudi Arabia’s activities in the Middle East and claims about an alleged massacre at Eurovision, an international song contest, hosted by Israel in 2019.”

Netanyahu’s Likud party responded to the reveal by attacking the protest movement.

“The backwards regime [in Iran] is supporting the left-wing protesters. The goal is a shared one: to bring down Netanyahu.”

It said: “Iran, which is working to destroy Israel in an attempt to acquire nuclear weapons and arm the enemies around us, is investing efforts to topple Prime Minister Netanyahu because it knows Netanyahu has already stood for years as a fortified wall against these attempts.”

Israelis protest against Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, on October 31, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Black Flags said in response: “After Likud claimed we’re aliens and anarchists, now Netanyahu claims we’re envoys of Iran. There has never been a prime minister in Israel who incited so much against citizens of the country.” It called for mass attendance in the next planned demonstrations on Saturday night.

Facebook’s removals were among some 14 networks it eliminated for what it calls “Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior” around the world. The company has recently begun giving periodic updates on its efforts to combat misinformation and fake news on its platforms.

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