Fake Russian social media accounts sought to influence US-Israel ties — report

Researchers find tens of thousands of posts from accounts tied to suspected Russian trolls were aimed at bolstering Trump-Netanyahu relationship

US President Donald Trump (left) with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, May 23, 2017. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images via JTA)
US President Donald Trump (left) with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, May 23, 2017. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images via JTA)

Fake Russian social media accounts have sought to influence relations between the United States and Israel, Israeli television reported on Monday.

Researchers from Clemson University found that of nearly three million posts flagged as being from fake accounts out of so-called Russian troll farms, tens of thousands of them had to do with Israel and the broader region.

Sixty percent of the posts on Israel worked to bolster the relationship between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump, oftentimes while criticizing former American president Barack Obama, the researchers found.

For example, some of the posts read that Trump and Netanyahu were jointly exposing “Obama’s failures,” the report said.

Meanwhile, a quarter of the posts highlighted corruption investigations into Netanyahu’s conduct or attacked him from the left, while the remaining 15% were related to news reports, according to the researchers.

The Russian accounts were not trying to influence the Israeli conversation, but rather the American one, where the Jewish state has become a more polarizing issue, the researchers determined.

“Trolls tried to encourage the right in the political division of the US, also the far-right, in order that it will have a positive opinion of Netanyahu,” Patrick Warren, who analyzed the tweets along with fellow Clemson researcher Darren Linvill, told Israel’s Channel 10 news.

Other posts however attacked Israel, labelling it an apartheid state and criticizing Netanyahu, the report said.

The tweets concerning Israel were part of a set of 2,973,371 Twitter posts from fake accounts compiled by the Clemson researchers and uploaded to the internet in concert with the FiveThirtyEight website.

Russian President Vladimir Putin holds a press conference at the end of the 10th BRICS summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, on July 27, 2018. (AFP Photo/Sputnik/Alexey Nikolsky)

The posts came from some 2,848 accounts tied to the Internet Research Agency, a so-called troll farm based in St. Petersburg, Russia. In February, US special counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 people associated with the IRA for plotting to disrupt the 2016 election.

US intelligence agencies have concluded that fake Russian accounts aimed to influence the 2016 American presidential elections, and Facebook and Twitter have been working to identify and boot accounts found to have been started as part of influence campaigns, usually out of Russia.

According to the US intelligence community, Russian hackers targeted at least 21 states ahead of the 2016 elections at Russian President Vladimir Putin’s behest.

AP contributed to this report.

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