Monday, January 01, 2024

The bot campaign to break Israel's spirit

Last week, a representative of an Israeli social threat intelligence firm Cyabra spoke at a Knesset session about how a coordinated influence campaign from Iraq was using bots in the first days of the war to impact public opinion.

I've discussed this a little, and I spent some more time looking at the bots attacking my account.

Social media allows attackers to quickly adjust their methods to see what is working and what isn't. I'm finding that they are getting more effective at their messaging.

The ones attacking me are specifically trying to turn the Israeli public against the war. They post almost exclusively in Hebrew. They are using a few vectors for their messaging that would resonate with Israelis: attacking Netanyahu's leadership, pretending to care about the hostages, and claiming that the IDF is hiding things from the public during the war and things are going badly.

When they create new bot accounts, they will use Jewish and Israeli iconography in their profiles - lots of Israeli flags, for example. 

They'll use typically Jewish and Israeli names - lots of "Levy" and "Cohen" and "Friedman"s. And there is a hierarchy - some older bot accounts that have been around for several months that aren't specifically Israeli sounding are feeding a second tier, which might have 30-150 fake followers of other bots, and then the bottom tier will only have one or two followers. Nearly all of the bottom tier accounts have been created within the past few weeks. 

Often, the accounts will start off by following and retweeting actual popular Zionist accounts (including mine) to make themselves look legitimate,. and sometimes this fools real people into following them, making it a little harder to identify them.

I don't know where they get their content, but it is getting much more sophisticated every day. Here is a video that was posted by hundreds of those bots where they use humor to try to demoralize Israelis into thinking the IDF is killing hostages and being killed by Hamas because of stupidity. This one seems to have been created by an Arab account but they added Hebrew messaging. 

As I mentioned last week, Iranian-linked sites are bragging that they are learning Hebrew and studying the Israeli psyche to fine tune these sorts of messages and make them appear to be truly from Israelis.

To these botmasters, Israeli dissension on how to conduct the war and anti-government protests are a godsend. It makes some of their messages look like they really could be from left-wing Israelis, and some of their material may indeed be from a fringe of Israelis. The sheer number of bots makes it appear that Israelis are far more divided.

The good news is that their attempt to use these bots to get a ceasefire or demoralize the Israeli public means that Hamas is losing, badly. But every social media user must understand how extensive and sophisticated these campaigns are to manipulate you. Tens of thousands of fake accounts, with millions of messages, is not a small scale campaign. 

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