Facebook and Instagram shuts down 265 Israel-linked accounts, pages, groups, and events linked to Israel on the social networking giant

This picture taken on April 30, 2019 shows Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg delivering the opening keynote introducing new Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram privacy features at the Facebook F8 Conference at McEnery Convention Center in San Jose, California. (Photo by AFP)
Facebook cracks down on widespread Israel-linked activity, which it found to be in breach of other subscribers’ privacy and in the service of promoting hate speech.

On Thursday, the company said it had blocked 265 accounts, pages, groups, and events linked to Israel on the social networking giant and its sister website Instagram.

It said those behind the activities would engage in "inauthentic behavior" targeting users in Southeast Asia, Latin America, and Africa. It specified the targeted African countries as Nigeria, Senegal, Togo, Angola, Niger, and Tunisia.

"The people behind this network used fake accounts to run pages, disseminate their content, and artificially increase engagement," Nathaniel Gleicher, head of cybersecurity policy at Facebook said in a statement.

He identified Israel's Archimedes Group, a Tel Aviv-based political consulting and lobbying firm, as the source of some of the activity. "This organization and all its subsidiaries are now banned from Facebook, and it has been issued a cease and desist letter," said Gleicher.

Gleicher said Archimedes had 65 Facebook accounts, 161 pages, 12 events and four Instagram accounts. Some 2.8 million accounts followed one or more of these pages.

Political meddling

Those behind the accounts would pretend to be locals or members of the local press, circulating fabricated information about politicians.

"The page administrators and account owners frequently posted about political news, including topics like elections in various countries, candidate views, and criticism of political opponents," Gleicher said.

"We’re taking down these pages and accounts based on their behavior, not the content they posted."

He added that the campaign featured spending around $812,000 for advertisements on Facebook paid for in Brazilian reals, Israeli shekels, and US dollars with the first ad running in 2012 and the most recent last month.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made inroads into Africa a key part of his agenda, becoming the first Israeli leader to visit the continent in 50 years in 2016.The Thursday report was not the first one in which Israel was linked to using social media platforms to disseminate its desired information.

Last May, a report said the Israeli foreign ministry had launched a Facebook page uniquely dedicated to efforts to sway the public opinion in Iraq in favor of the Tel Aviv regime.

It cited diplomatic sources in the occupied city of Jerusalem al-Quds as saying the Arabic-language page would serve as “some sort of digital embassy” to Iraq.