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Slew of fake social media accounts posing as Israeli diplomats found around globe

Platforms cooperated with authorities to remove fraudulent accounts; officials concerned fake accounts could be used for hostile activities

Phone apps for Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, among other social networks on a smartphone in Chennai, India, on March 22, 2018. (Arun Sankar/AFP/File)
Phone apps for Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, among other social networks on a smartphone in Chennai, India, on March 22, 2018. (Arun Sankar/AFP/File)

The Foreign Ministry recently identified a slew of accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram posing as the official accounts of Israel’s foreign diplomats in several destinations around the world.

So far, fake accounts allegedly belonging to ambassadors and consuls in India, Ecuador, Uruguay, Albania, Finland and Romania have been found.

The fake accounts uploaded content that is almost completely identical to the envoys’ real accounts, with the intention of building credibility on social media platforms.

The head of the digital diplomacy division at the Foreign Ministry, David Saranga — until recently Israel’s ambassador to Romania — told The Times of Israel that the ministry contacted the social media companies and the fictitious accounts were removed.

The Foreign Ministry fears that personal inquiries would be sent to other, similar fake accounts with the intention of speaking with an Israeli official. Another concern is that such accounts, which are virtually indistinguishable from the originals, would start spreading false information, were they not removed from the networks.

The information was revealed at a conference held by the Foreign Ministry for foreign diplomats stationed in Israel on the subject of digital diplomacy.

Officials said they fear that fake accounts may be used in the future for subversive or hostile activity, and at the very least damage the reputation of the ministry vis-à-vis residents in foreign countries.

Fake Facebook account designed to imitate that of Noah Gal Gender, Israel’s ambassador to Albania (screenshot)

Following the increase in the number of fake accounts, the security division of the Foreign Ministry sent instructions to the heads of missions around the world to monitor and pay attention to unusual activity.

Last Tuesday, the ministry held workshops aimed at increasing awareness of proper conduct on social networks, during which security officials at embassies briefed employees around the world regarding social media use.

Saranga currently heads a division of 40 employees who operate the accounts of the Foreign Ministry in multiple languages ​​and on a range of platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and TikTok.

“The pattern of the forgery was interesting: the fake accounts were completely identical to the content and activity that the ambassadors” were posting, Saranga told The Times of Israel.

“Some of them steal photos from Facebook and upload them on Twitter, or share content in parallel to the real activities of the ambassador in the country where they are stationed.”

According to Saranga, the fraudulent accounts tried to build a reliable profile, either to lure people to contact the owner of the profile or to build trust with followers and then disseminate misinformation later on. Most of the fakes were exposed on Facebook, some of them on Twitter and some, including Saranga’s, on Instagram.

The Hebrew version of this article first appeared on The Times of Israel’s Hebrew sister site, Zman Yisrael, here.

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